Wednesday, 17 May 2017

ghosts on the trout trail

Fishing can take us to new destinations with new stories.
Today I will fish Crowdy Reservoir on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. Crowdy stands in the shadow of Davidstow Moor Airfield, used by the RAF to launch bombing raids in WWII. The runways and some of the old buildings are still here, including the control tower. 

During wartime the airfield was the scene of some 40 crashes. Around 100 aircrew failed to return at all from their raids over Europe. This place certainly has its fair share of ghost stories - tales that tell of phantom service men and women and even of a stricken bomber that replays its crash landing on dark howling nights. 

I can't resist a closer look at the control tower. It's a hairy ride, bowling along the runway at dawn, trying to anticipate the car-swallowing chasms that suddenly appear here and there in the crumbling concrete.    

I want to tie some kebari from locally gathered materials too, so I park up and walk  amongst the sheep to look for some wool for my dubbing. As I cast around the ruins looking for my wool I can feel a dark mood  laying heavily on this land.

I gather some little scraps of sheep's fleece and use some of it along with a Herring Gull feather to tie some kebari. I will use them to try for some trout from Crowdy Lake. 'Try' being the operative word. I've done my research and the official verdict of the online forums is that Crowdy is devoid of fish. True, posts are scant but they all agree that Crowdy is a blanker's paradise. But seeing as I am staying just up the road I figure it's worth a go. 

But alas I am well and truly skunked at Crowdy and I fear it will take a better angler than I to unlock its secrets today. No matter, a change of atmosphere and frequency is called for, and a switch to a bright moorland stream is strong medicine.

Keen to put my herring gull kebari to the test, I arrive at the river with high anticipation.

It's what some anglers would term 'technical' little water, - with complex braided currents, a low overhead tree canopy and highly contrasting lighting all adding to the challenge of presenting a fly and detecting takes. It's an easy river to read though, with obvious fish holding features in profusion. Creases, pools, slacks and undercuts all have trout potential and often the better fish occupy the best of these. The problem is all one of presentation, as often the best marks are separated from the angler by chaotic faster water.
The tenkara approach is ideally suited to such flow mosaics, except that here a rod long enough to hold line clear of the water is often too long to use under the low branches. My rod of choice is just 8ft in length. 

Even so possible fishing locations along the river are limited if a reasonable dead drift is desired. Down and across wet fly presentations with a low rod angle are more viable but invariably the fly skates across to end its swing in the riffles where the smallest trout parr seem to predominate. Relegated to the least favorable water these smallest of trout are hell bent on packing on weight and growing big enough to occupy the more profitable features and structure of the river.          

Given the choice I always prefer casting to sighted fish over 'prospecting' the water and so today is all about looking and watching. I soon see a splashy rise in a slack under the far bank. Some small pale flies are flitting around the bankside and the trout is keyed on to them. I angle a cast below the overhanging branches and my fly lands and is hit, the hanging line plucking taught for an instant then falling slack again. It's an encouraging start but I know this pool is blown now for a while.       

Further along, a down and across wet fly elicits those inevitable knocks from tiny trout parr, until a better fish properly takes. It's an average size for this stream, a lovely buttery 6 incher, now I know that my kebari is working! 

More walking and watching. The water is the colour of old malt whisky and the trout here have the most beautiful colouration - grading from burnt toffee on top through to butterscotch underneath, with a cosmic-camo of red, blue, black and silver along the flanks. In the water though these fish are shadows, take your eyes off them and they are gone when you look back. I cast my fly to such a shadow, the fly lands and the tail of the shadow flicks but the fly swings too soon out of the trout's window. Not spooked though, but interested  and 'on the fin'. A change of angle gives a longer drift next cast but the fly passes through a reflection and I lose sight of the fish as well. There is no indication of a take but for some reason I lift and the fish is on.

A good fish for this river and the proof of the pudding for my Cornish kebari. And for me it's rare perfection.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

tenkara in the edgelands

Edgelands.  Those in-between spaces of no-man's land, on the fringe of the city, where post industrialism exists cheek by jowl with raw nature. Neither wholly urban or truly countryside. Overlooked, neglected, undervalued and to be avoided. These are the places your mother told you not to go. This is the hinterland of polite society.
A far cry from the spiritual home of traditional tenkara, but the edgelands can be a rich hunting ground with  canals, flooded quarries, reservoirs, pounds and urban rivers all offering wild fishing to the open minded tenkara angler. Yes there are trout to be found if you know where to look, but there are also other worthy species -  roach, bream, chub, perch and many others too that will take a fly. 

Now don't get me wrong, I love nothing better than fishing classic tenkara for wild trout in some upland freestone stream. But that particular nirvana is a good days drive from where I live. So to scratch the tenkara itch I'm taking my rod and a fist full of flies into the edgelands in search of adventure.

I start my urban safari at the waterway that runs by my door - the Grand Union Canal.

Although narrow, the canal is around one hundred miles long which adds up to a large expanse of water. To the newbie, much of the canal can appear a daunting prospect - in parts engineered, (seemingly) featureless and industrial. But, like any water, once you learn to read it then some of its secrets will be revealed. There will be days when you could be excused for thinking that there are no fish swimming in the canal at all, but there will be other days when you are blessed with some frantic sport. Today.. well.. it's somewhere in between hero and zero.

In the summer evenings I love casting a small sakasa kebari to the roach that rise here. 
This factory - a grain milling plant, positively leaks heat twenty four hours a day. The water is warm and sheltered even in the worst of weather, and this evenings fly hatch is on. Roach are feeding throughout the water column, splashing in the top water and flashing too over the canal bed. A soft hackle bead head kebari proves the perfect approach. 

I'm using a 13 foot rod, a level mono line and a light tippet, for the sheer pleasure of landing thistledown fly-only presentations amongst the rise forms. A size 16 fly, a 7x tippet and a shoal of little roach can be a fun escape at the end of a testing day!

I'm hankering for those fish with the psychedelic spots though. So, armed with Theo Pike's Trout in Dirty Places, my next urban tenkara mission will be a search for wild urban trout..