Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Travelling Abroad to Fish? Fail to prepare, prepare to be frustrated!

Whilst we all enjoy fishing in our home country, the idea of fishing abroad for some exotic, large, unusual species is very attractive.  These days, tempting, overseas fishing exploits are frequently featured on the box and are continuously featured on YouTube.  This exposure tends to whet our appetite to “pack rod and travel”.  Sadly, sometimes because we have not done our homework until it’s too late, we end up on holiday feeling fed up and frustrated looking at inviting rivers, lakes and beaches without the appropriate tackle, knowledge and license to enjoy the moment.  Having been fishing abroad for more years than I care to remember (I was born when the Dead Sea was only sick) I thought I would share some tips based on what I have learnt the hard way.

1.       Probably the easiest way to successfully fish abroad is to sign up as part of a party led by an experienced guide.  This is costly and does not completely guarantee success. One has heard of salmon trips to the Kolar Peninsular when the rivers are late thawing, or to Tierra del Fuego where it has been so windy that only fishers who brought two-handed rods can get a line out and a fish on. 

2.       If the trip is guideless you need to start preparing for the trip as soon as possible by first deciding the what, the where and the when.  Deciding on “the what” helps fix “the where” and probably “the when”.  But maybe you have the where and the when decided for you by others.  When my brother suggested I took my wife to the Canary Isles last year and she liked the idea, I immediately started checking out the fishing opportunities.  Having fixed “the where” and “the when” that will determine what you can fish for.  Many locations have “closed seasons” for certain species.  Sometimes there is the weather to contend with.  Once in April in Utah I set out to fish a large reservoir up in the local mountains and found my route blocked by a “Road Closed” sign.  On asking a local why the road was closed he responded with the simple answer “snow”!

3.       Local knowledge is worth its weight in fish!  Whilst reading travel books, fishing books and magazines or searching the internet can be helpful, nothing replaces the local knowledge of a fellow fisher.  I use two approaches to obtain detailed local knowledge.  The first is to hire a local guide.  This obviously costs but in my experience usually pays dividends so I usually hire a guide at least once every trip and definitely if I am going to a new location.  This has the following advantages:-

a.       They make sure you have the appropriate license and know the fishery rules (so you stay out of trouble).  In some parts of the world fishery enforcement officers carry guns!

b.      They are going to take you where you are most likely to catch (and you can remember where and save it as a favourite on your Sat Nav for future reference).

c.       They usually provide the transport to places you would never find on your own.

d.      If a drift boat or pontoon boat is needed they will provide that.

e.      They usually provide all the appropriate tackle, flies, etc. and sometimes even drinks and lunch.  When the guide hauls his boat onto a gravel bar, breaks out the stove and starts cooking lunch whilst you carry on fishing you know you are living the dream!

f.        They change flies for you, sometimes very frequently, until you start hooking up.

g.       They show you subtle techniques, like ways for avoiding flies dragging in cross currents.

h.      They keep you safe.  A guide advised me not to try fishing Lake Kariba from the shoreline as the crocs think you are dinner!

i.         Sometimes they even clean or fillet the fish for you and bag them up.

j.        They are good company and you make friends.  If you have had a good days fishing you tip them appropriately. 

4.       The alternative to using a paid guide is to use what I call the “please can you help me approach”.  This involves searching the web for the local fishing club web site and posting a message on their forum.  I put a message like this “Friendly fly fisher out from the UK first 2 weeks of June would appreciate tips and advice on where and what species to fish for”.  I might even mention the species such as bass, steelhead or sea run cuts.  Then I sit back and wait for some responses.  Sometimes I only get advice but on a number of occasions I get invited by a complete stranger to go fish with him.  My first experience of doing this resulted in my receiving an e mail from “Papa Fish” which stated “Meet me in Sultan at the Bakery at 6am tomorrow and we will fish the South Fork of the Sky together”.  The Sky is the Skykomish River in WA, USA and I could not resist an invitation like that.  So that was how I met up with my pal Lonnie and we have fished together every year for the last 6 years sometimes using his drift boat.
     These fishing friends can provide nearly all the benefits a paid guide provides.  I think it important to try to repay their goodwill by offering to pay for fuel, lunch etc.  I also make it clear that if they ever find themselves in the UK I will try to find them some good fishing.

5.       If you cannot arrange a formal or informal “guide” then you should seek out advice from the tackle shop local to the area you will be in.  Most will respond to your email questions prior to your arriving and will offer guiding services or just give advice. When you arrive paying them a visit as soon as possible will help you get on the water with the right kit. Take a notebook and the local map with you so you can record their advice and invest in a few flies etc. to keep them in business.

6.       As my memory is slowly drifting away I find having a written itinerary essential so I know what I am doing and the where and when.  I break each day into three parts, morning, afternoon and evening.  Here is an example of part of an actual one from 2012, the original being filled out in pencil (so I can change it easily as things develop):-

Thurs 9th
Fri 10th
Sat 11th
Sun 12th
Mon 13th
Tues 14th
Wed 15th
Thurs 16th
Fish Money Creek with LB
Fish at Carnation with E and H
Baby sitting and shopping
Fishing trip to Whidbey Island
Children to gym
Plan arrangements for Yakima trip
Get wood for tree house and rod for H
Swimming at Bean’s
Check out Rattlesnake Lake
Snoqualmie Falls with children
Fish Tolt River
Fishing trip to Whidbey Island
Fish Rattlesnake from float tube
Fishing with SD on N Fork Snoqualmie
Watch Avatar
Fish Tolt River

This might seem a bit excessive but it is the only way I can keep track of things (remember that at the start of some overseas fishing trips you are jet-lagged).  Once on a fishing road trip around Utah and Idaho I missed an appointment to drift the Snake River with a friend and his pal who owned the drift boat.  I have never quite got over that!  I also use the itinerary as a log by pencilling in notes on how successful the fishing was.

7.    It is helpful if you know the rules and regulations and many fishery authorities publish these on the web.  In the USA each State issue rod licences and the format of the licence can be a bit complicated. In fact, I think it fair to say that the whole question of fishing in the USA is a lot more complicated than in the UK. This is not surprising as States cover vast areas with a wild diversity of fishing habitat. If you go on the web and look at the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife website you will see that their whole Sport Fishing Rules document is 135 pages long. The fresh water section is 95 pages long and deals individually with each lake and river. You can learn a lot if you have time to read it! On their web site the WDFW also publish the dates when they are stocking lakes.  Now that is very useful!

8.       For reasons already mentioned, I like to have a packing list for my fishing tackle as well as socks and shirts etc.  I really get mad at myself if I forget to take something that I end up needing.  I also tend to take a lot of things “just in case”.  Fortunately my wife usually travels light.  Having once left a rod case in the baggage collection area at Gatwick I only use “travelling rods” that can fit diagonally in a large suitcase.

Depending on the sort of fishing I intend doing, I select appropriate items from my master list (so a lot of it does not go on holiday).  Here is my master list:-

Fishing License
Plastic bags
Eye protection (Polaroid?)
Warm layers
Rods (main and spare)
Landing net
Waterproof jacket
Reels (main & spare)
Fishing trousers
Picnic Lunch
Other lines/spools
Camera + batteries
Chest waders
Sink tips
Map & directions
Thigh waders
Boat seat
Leader spools
Wading boots
Boat Drogue & G clamps
Dry flies
Fishing diary
Wellington boots
Mobile phone
Wets & Nymphs
Bass bag
Fingerless mitts
Filleting knife & glove
Lures/Salt water flies
Stripping basket
Spare clothes
Wading stick
Thick socks
Sun protection
Tool necklace
First aid kit
Insect repellent
Fly line treatment
Permission to fish
Mosquito head net
Cold box (for fish)
Fly floatant
Sat Nav
Wader repair kit
Pen and paper
Leader sinkant
Contact phone numbers
Strike indicators
Personal floatation device
Stool if bank fishing
Various glues

9.       Finally I think keeping a note book or fishing diary is desirable.  You can record your successes and failures and what you learnt.  This can help prepare you for the next trip!

     Yours truly relaxing in his float tube on Rattlesnake Lake, WA, USA.  I trust this post will help your holidays stay relaxing and not frustrating!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Fly Fishing for Sea-Trout: Adventure at Woodmill on the Itchen

I have called it an adventure because:-
  • The opportunity came out of the blue thanks to a chance conversation with Andreas the Salisbury and District Fishery Manager.
  • I was to be fishing in an area I did not know
  • I was to be fishing with a gent I did not know
  • I was to be fishing a complex junction pool that was tidal and involved wading
  • The target was that illusive species, the sea trout
  • And it was all going to happen IN THE DARK!
It sounded great fun!

Clive Bruton and I met at the White Swan and had a burger supper.  We talked all things fish  and I soon realised that I was with an expert who had fished his way round the world. This is where I made my first mistake!  I had planned to ensure we got to the water whilst there was still some daylight but I talked too much (Clive wanted to know about steelhead fishing) and we arrived at Woodmill in the dark!  Fortunately, Clive had done it all before and he knew the combinations for the road and pool gates, I got the impression it was a sort of fishing Fort Knox!

In the dark it is hard to judge distance but the pool appeared bigger than I had expected. It was high tide and water was roaring in from two sources, the River Itchen and Monks Brook. At first, and for some time, I had no idea where it was discharging down towards the Southampton Water and the sea.  Clive kindly walked me around and described various features and showed me the "hut" which was more of a shelter than a hut as the front was completely open. However it did boast some seats and a kettle.

Clive then explained that it is harder to catch when the water is high but that was when the bigger fish were caught.  He then shared the technique he had developed which involved a small tube fly on the point "anchored" deeper in the water by a very heavy nymph on a dropper.  I didn't have any very heavy nymphs so I fished a single fly on a fast sinking line to no avail apart from catching the odd tree.  I was having difficulty judging distances in the dark!  Then I graduated up to an intermediate line as fish were showing on the top and the water was dropping.  I also tried the anchor nymph approach using a woolly bugger!

By this time it was around one in the morning and I was feeling a bit rough. The drive down hadn't helped my back and I was feeling sorry for myself.  At one point I sat in the hut drinking soup and thinking "Am I getting a bit too old for this middle of the night sea trout lark"!  Then I told myself that I was lucky to be there and the weather was kind, the moon was down and it was an ideal night so I ought to get a fly on the water.  Then I spotted Clive out in the middle of the pool and realised the tide was well out and a mud/gravel bar had appeared.

Clive modestly told me he had caught a few and advised me to fish a bit deeper and to wade out on the bar and cast under the trees.  By this time I had gone through a lot of the fly box and was currently using a sparse black and silver "Needle fly".  Clive suggested it was too light and he was right because the strong currents were probably lifting it.  As I was running out of time I put a blob of lead putty on the fly's head and cast it under the trees fishing it on the swing.  After half a dozen casts still nothing so I cast straight up current and did a fast retrieve.  BANG!  Fish on, not a big one but sporting enough in the dark to be great fun.  I was so pleased that all the tiredness and back pain disappeared and I came alive.  I quickly removed the hook, took a quick photo and slid a beautiful fish back into the water.  Line tidied and back on station I repeated the process and a few casts later I was in contention again.  This time the fish was a bit bigger at around 2lb, but it thought it was a bird and tried to fly!  A brace!  I was a happy bunny.  When Colin called across out of the gloom saying he was packing up but I could fish on I suddenly realised how tied I was and I decided to quit whilst I could still walk!

A perfect specimen, not big but beautiful!
The needle fly that saved the day. The leader goes through the red loop down the side of the sewing needle and ties on to the treble. The point of the needle is then pushed into the sleeve that is over the hook shank.

The final score was Clive 9, Alan 2 but I didn't mind that, it had been a very special memorable night and a bit of an adventure!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Family History Research Brings Rewards!

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints we (my wife and I) believe in the eternal nature of family relationships. As well as trying to keep our immediate family (all seven children, their spouses and our twenty three grandchildren) together as a team in this life we  also want to include in our "team" our ancestors. We believe in life after death and that "families can be together, forever".  This belief involves trying to search out and identify our forbears.  Family history research (or to give it it's posh name, genealogy) not only helps you build a family tree (and the posh name for that is pedigree chart) it also can get you in touch with lost or distant living relatives.  
My wife Rosalind is our genealogist and she has some amazing and interesting things happen through doing genealogy.  Our family tree is on the web and a lady in Ohio researching for her great grandfather found his name on our family tree. She then contacted Rosalind and together they confirmed it was the same person. Rosalind then sent her a written family history.  The lady in Ohio then traced one of the people mentioned.  Margaret is still living and is 95 years old and is still at the same address.  She is Rosalind's mothers cousin and we have a photo of them together in Ireland when they were young.   To cut a long story short, whilst baby sitting grandchildren near Seattle, we got a few days leave of absence and met up with Margaret and her family at a place called Maple Ridge near Vancouver, British Columbia.  These distant relatives were most friendly and hospitable and we had a delightful couple of days in their company all thanks to doing family history research!
Rosalind with Margaret her mother's cousin and the carer
 Ann, Margaret's daughter and her husband Jim, our delightful hosts
 Jim's latest toy (Ann and Jim are snowbirds)!
 Inside the motor home (RV) with the sides extended. Just amazing!
Yours truly in the driving seat (dreaming)!
So as a result of doing family history research we had a wonderful time in BC with some delightful distant relatives.  You should try it, you never know where it will take you!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Chalk Stream Fly Fishing Masterclass

Yours truely on the chalk

Because I do so many different kinds of fly fishing I tend to be a "Jack of all and master of none".  Now I am retired I am keen to improve my chalk stream performance because being a member of the Salisbury and District Angling Club (SADAC) I have, for a reasonable annual subscription, access to a lot of lovely water and beautiful fish.  Acknowledging that local knowledge is king and having not fished the club waters for several months I decided to pay a visit to the office and seek the guidance of the Fishery Manager, Andreas.  After we had swapped a few stories and discussed ways of avoiding backache while fishing he advised me where to fish adding that he would be there later himself.  
Andreas focused

So later that afternoon I got to fish with Andreas and it turned out to be a master class on how to outwit the fish and catch.  Here is a summary of the key things I learnt:-
  • I am reasonably good at spotting fish but Andreas was better.  I think the fact that his Polaroid sun glasses had side shades gave him an advantage.  I have never bothered to fit mine side shades but I will now.  
  • He knew the river far better than me and where the fish's favourite feeding locations were.
  • He prioritised the nearest fish, crouched forward and really focused on them and what they were doing.
  • If fish were not seen to be actively feeding he left them after a few casts and moved on.
  • He used a longer leader than I, say around 12 feet.
  • He used smaller flies than I, sixteens and eighteens.
  • He was constantly watching the fly life around, both above and on the water.
  • If there was no top of the water activity he switched to nymphing.
  • When the sedge were hatching he used F- flies, little V shaped CDC flies in brown or black.
  • As the evening drew to a close and activity on the deeper water slowed down he moved us to the faster riffles where there was lots of surface activity.
It was a privilege to have fished with an expert who so willingly shared his knowledge.

The reward a pretty brown

Salmon parr

Searching for bigger fish under the trees


A stripped and twisted willow twig makes a handy fish carrying handle!