Friday, 25 August 2017

trout from the wildwood

Come away with me,
into the wildwood. We'll take our rods and catch some pretty trout. You don't need those waders, they'll be no use here. And leave those polaroids at home, it's too dark for them under the old beech trees

We will bring the Kelly kettle though so you can be sure of a brew. What? Never seen a Kelly kettle? You are in for a treat. Guaranteed to boil in three minutes, even in a blizzard. Don't  worry, we'll stash the tea kit half way along the bank so no need to lug it far. No-one ever comes here anyway. You can't beat a roaring Kelly for restoring flagging spirits!

Yes, this stream can be a heart breaker for sure. But don't worry, I think we'll catch today. It's taken me a few years to learn how to fish here and there's a few little tricks I can show you.

What else? Just a couple of short rods, and some tippet and line. And my little box of flies. Look, I've tied these up specially. Pale coloured kebari, simple and scruffy, they should show up well in the peat stained water. Right, I think we're ready, let's go. It's not far but the lanes are narrow so we'll take care for tractors.

Here we are. It's so quiet here, until you get to the stream. Just the breeze coming off the moor, rustling the leaves of the trees, and the white sounds of water. See how the old beech lean down over the river? As if they are in private conversation. We'll need to listen to what they are saying if we want to catch some trout. That's it, creep slowly and lowly, the water is clear and the trout are close by. We don't want to make a new shape on the skyline to scare our fish. But it's so dark under the summer beech and that's a great help. It does make it difficult so see our lines though. I've tried them all here. Lime green, like the beech leaves - that's best. 

What? You don't see any fish. No, neither do I but I know they're here! Look for the slack water under your feet or under the far bank. Each little spot will hold a fish. In this slower water our biggest challenge is landing a fly without the trout seeing us or our casting line. That's it, get the fly out, whoops, bad luck! Don't worry I've done that more times than I can count. I've spent ages getting into place and then gone and stuck my fly into a tree on the back cast. Let's move on. Lots of other spots to try and you only get one chance with these fish.

Here's an easier spot to cast, but keep low. There are some places here where I almost  lay on my side to cast. Yes it probably does look a bit funny, but there's no one here to see except the trees. And if it gets a nice line out I don't really care. That's a good cast, well done! The water is up a bit from recent rain and pushing through, but I think a splashy delivery will pull the odd fish up, so let's let it drift for a few seconds. We need to give the fish time to come up for our fly. 

Sometimes you'll feel the electric vibration of a fish on your fly, sometimes the line will just slow down or pause on it's drift. It's so difficult to see that in the contrasting light here, but if in doubt strike. Strike too when you feel a fish on or they will usually wriggle free from the hook pretty quick. The trout here seem to test the fly by mouthing it and only rarely do they properly turn. No takers, so cast again once or twice to the same spot. 

There! It's taken as soon as the fly landed! Well done, but careful, he's taking you into the tree roots under the near bank. A bit of side pressure, that's it keep the rod low, yes he's ours! Such a beautiful little trout, just look at those colours - cosmic-camo! It's amazing how such vivid marking can become such an excellent disguise. A quick photo and let's slip him back. He really gave his all in the fight so let's let him recover in the shallows first. Gently does it. There, off he goes. Well done, proud Dad! 

Now, I know a lovely little pool just down the way..





Wednesday, 16 August 2017

review of the tenkara sling pack from esoteric tackle

A few folks have asked 
how I am getting on with my new Esoteric Sling Pack. So now that I have had a chance to test it out in some different fishing scenarios I thought I would share my experiences.

I've worn the sling pack as a full-on day pack for a two day hiking/fishing trip. In between trips I've also been using it as a short session grab & go bag. More recently it's accompanied me on an extensive two day wade-fishing adventure in driving rain.     

 Up front I will say that I really like this pack, for these reasons:
  • It's well thought out, with a pocket arrangement that lets me organise my stuff the way I like it.  (see my earlier post)
  • It's well made & robust with strong stitching and good quality zippers
  • I like the colours and the embroidered esoteric kebari logo looks kinda cool. Although this sling pack would be good for any kind of fly fishing, the logo and the rod holding pocket  does mark it out as a purpose made tenkara sling pack, which is pretty unique I think. 
  • It is very roomy. Allthough I usually carry all my gear on just my lanyard and in a shirt pocket, for those longer trips or photo shoots, this pack can carry a lot of gear.

  • Even when fully loaded the pack is very comfortable. Weight is distributed in a way that really does reduce fatigue. I have worn this for two days solid, carrying the gear pictured, (as well as a large SLR camera) walking and casting and covering several miles and I experienced no back ache. As a sufferer of back pain arising from an old injury I'm pretty pleased about that! 
  • Although not marketed as a waterproof pack (and I would recommend the precaution of ziplok poly bags for your digital gear), in three hours of heavy rain the contents of my pack came out pretty dry back at base camp.  
  • Cool features I've found really useful include the rod holder pocket, external water bottle carrier and retracting cord for my hemostats. 

The things I'm not so keen on are a much shorter list, and really I'm being a bit picky:

  • The chest strap release buckle is at one end. Once released, the dangling strap is long enough that the end gets wet if you are wading. If the release buckle was in the center this wouldn't happen as readily.
  • The fold out 'table top' pocket with the velcro fly patch is too big. If you have some nice flies located in the patch, you don't really want other storage items in the same pocket laying on top and crushing them when the pocket is closed. For this reason I wouldn't put other items in this pocket at all if my flies were located in the patch. So this is a waste of potential storage space. In reality I opted to forgo using the fly patch and used this pocket to store other items for this reason.
  • I think I would prefer a 'blind' end to the rod holder sleeve, rather than relying on the toggle cords which can be a bit fiddly and do need to be cinched down pretty tight onto your rod handle to be secure.

All in all, in my opinion, the esoteric tenkara sling pack is an honest, well made and well thought out solution, designed by a tenkara angler for tenkara anglers. I love mine and have no hesitation in recommending it to my friends. And at just £35.00 or around 45 USD it's got to be great value.   

For a full description of the esoteric sling pack and to purchase visit

I believe it's customary to include a disclaimer in product reviews. No benefit has been sought or offered for this review or for anything else from the maker/supplier. This was a regular purchase for my own personal use and this is an honest 'warts and all' review. The views and opinions expressed here are my own - yours may differ.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Summer tenkara on a lowland stream

I love fishing the little stream in Summer.
The willows are fully clothed and hang low over the water and the stream is flanked by deep beds of reedmace. Clouds of tiny fry part and reform around my boots and a king fisher flashes past in a blur of electric blue. Nature in all her abundance. The water is low and crystal clear and the air is still, making the fish skittish. But they are easy to spot too. 

Unlike Winter, there is no prospect now of casting from the bank. Instead you must creep up the narrow channel, looking to cover every likely looking spot you can cast a fly to. I'm fishing for chub with my kebari. The little ones are greedy but easily spooked. The bigger ones are.. well.. just easily spooked. And often holding in the most difficult lies.

Often I'm trying to drift my fly beneath overhanging bankside growth. A downstream presentation helps me keep the fly in the take zone a little longer and I can lower the rod slightly to feed the fly down the current seam. But the most productive (and challenging) approach I find is to land a fly only presentation directly onto the spot where I think a fish is holding. 

Often an instant splashy take signals that a fish is home and hopefully now fixed to my line. If there is no response within three seconds or so I lift and recast to the same spot a few times more, always fly first, fly only. These fish seem to respond to the trigger of the fly briefly touching down, and the prospect of a missed chance will often force a take. Give them too much time to inspect the fly and they quickly seem to become 'educated' and will then refuse that fly now, no matter what you do with it.

This is forensic fishing, a few steps forward, covering every promising spot with a few casts and moving on. The flanking willows and tangled banks make this challenging too. Sometimes only a vertical cast through a  narrow gap in the canopy above is possible. I've found that on the forward cast a high, slow sideways movement of the rod can float the fly down through the air and allow quite precise placement. Since I learned this technique I'm catching more fish, swearing much less and losing fewer flies in the scrub!


Tuesday, 8 August 2017

ghost fish

It's not supposed to be raining
and it's coming down in stair rods. I've reached that saturation point when you can't really get any wetter. It sounds weird but it's almost a cosy kind of feeling. 

The rain drops are such pretty ornamentation, bejeweling the rocks and the leaves and the rim of my cap. They change the atmosphere of this place, dampening the other sounds of the river and releasing the heady scents of soil and  vegetation.  A still closer intimacy is brought to the tiny little stream as we huddle under a drooping canopy of willow and alder in summer leaf. 

Big raindrops now, splatting down on the surface, breaking up the glassy glides so that I think we may become less visible to the trout, otherwise easily spooked in the low, clear August flow. 

There is a low distant rumble. We listen intently and figure that it's just a farm wagon passing over a steel cattle grid in the lane a mile away behind us. 

So we fish on, hoping for a take. We're fishing the River Arrow on the Welsh border. It's a new river for me and it's E's first time ever with tenkara, so for her everything is new. We arrive with high expectations which seem at first borne out, when on her first cast, E connects with a real lunker. We watch the trout twisting and diving for the near tree roots, and I'm laying on my stomach reaching down with my scoop net from the high bank. The fish is a mere foot away but E can't quite angle back the rod which tangles in the low branches. I manage to grasp the tippet to draw the fish to the net, but too soon. He is strong and as he  lunges away from the net we part company. 

When the line goes limp there is moment of bewilderment. As if, by staring with slack jawed incredulity at the space once occupied by the fish, time will somehow reverse and the fish will be reconnected to our line.  

This is rapidly replaced by the sickening realisation of a good fish lost, all the more painful because it belonged to my daughter and I blame my self. And the loss becomes more acute the longer we fish on without even a take. 

Sometimes I think we remember most those fish we lose and I sure have plenty of those memories. They grow in the retelling, both in size and in drama. But every angler must have one fish I think, whose bitter loss stands out, burning bright in the memory.  

In 'Blood Knots' Luke Jennings calls them ghost fish. After forty years my own personal spectre haunts me still and as we talk and fish I begin to wonder how long E's will stay. I see her determination as we fish on through the rain and I see my self there too. 

There is another of those low rumbles, this time it's nearer. It's not a farm vehicle, it's thunder, moving closer. Rods put down, it's time to retreat. There is always tomorrow says E.