Fishing has been a part of my life from an early age. My Dad introduced me to angling and I quickly developed a passion for not only being out on the water fishing, but being outdoors. I have a fascination for catching different species of fish on lures or flies, and I’m as happy exploring the tiniest of streams as I am being out on the open ocean. I’ve been very fortunate to have travelled to some spectacular destinations, both here in the UK and abroad, trying to catch as many species as possible. So far, I’ve caught 230 species.

I work for Farlows fishing, shooting and country clothing store in London, and I’m a Consultant for Fox Rage and Salmo lures. I’m also an Ambassador for the Angling Trust and have fished for England in two disciplines - the England Youth Fly Fishing Team and the Team England Lure Squad.

Through fishing I’ve met some great people and seen some amazing wildlife and scenery, and I’d like to share some of my experiences through my blog...

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Changing lures in challenging river conditions


The 1st January 2020 was the first time I’d fished on New Years Day for a few years - the last time was in Sri Lanka fishing for Clown Knifefish! We weren’t even going to fish on our planned walk along a section of river we hadn’t fished for a few years, but right at the last minute we decided to take the rods for a walk too! The river looked in good condition, with a tinge of colour but not the horrible chocolatey brown we were to become used to up to the end of the season (more on that later). I decided to start with an 8cm Pro Grub, rigged on an offset jighead, as I wasn’t sure if the river had become snaggier since I last fished it, and within 20 minutes, taking the rods for a walk had paid off, as something slammed my Pro Grub. Heavy headshakes gave me a good feeling I’d hooked a big Perch, and it was - 3lb 12oz and 45cm! What a first fish of the year!

This was shortly followed by a jack Pike, and then after 15 minutes without another take, I decided to have a change of tactic. There are some lures that sit in my tackle boxes for quite a while before they get a swim, and sometimes, you just get the feeling that a lure you don’t use often (or have not used before) could be worth a try. Before New Years Day I’d only used the Salmo Slick Stick on a couple of occasions, but I felt it would be a good choice in this particular area if I fished it on a twitch and pause retrieve, given the water in front of me was about 7ft deep, and there was the odd baitfish topping. A few casts later that change paid off as I had another 3lb+ Perch in the net!


I've enjoyed fishing the Slick Stick since that trip, and on the following few outings it produced some more nice Perch and plenty of Pike, especially when fished in slack water where baitfish had been gathering.


River conditions deteriorated as January progressed in to February due to the heavy and persistent rainfall, with just the occasional window of opportunity where, if I was lucky on the day I had off, there would be a few inches of visibility - so, we had to rely on other lures and techniques to keep the bites coming instead. The Rattlin Hornet has a wide wobble and loud rattle, and in the UV Orange colour it zings out even in muddy water. Banged along the bottom, the 4.5cm model produced bites even in the worst of conditions.


One of my favourite types of lures to fish in coloured water are creature baits, especially in white. Chub are a species that I’ve found are often obliging to a white creature bait fished when the rivers are coloured, and we caught a couple of nice fish on the Rage Critters fished Texas style over the winter period.



When the rivers were raging through I mostly concentrated on fishing any slack areas I could find, where fish were likely to be holding. With a Texas rigged creature bait, I could cast right in to bankside roots, overhanging bushes and trees, or close to the bank, where most of the slack areas were. It gave me the confidence of not snagging up quite as frequently as when using a normal jighead. On one particular trip I’d been testing a new creature bait on a river that, the day before, had flooded in to the fields, and had only just receded back in to its banks. Wandering along the slippery banks where the floodwater had been, and concentrating on fishing any slack areas we could find, I caught one of the best looking Perch I’ve landed this winter. It took the lure just six inches from my feet, in about a foot of water, proving that in coloured water conditions when a river is raging through, fish will find whatever slack water they can, no matter what the depth, and tuck themselves in close to the bank!


Shads such as the Zander Pro Shad and 7.5cm Replicant have also worked well, fished on a straight retrieve.




Whilst I stuck to using bigger lures to target Perch, Dad spent a bit more time scaling down and fishing with tiny softbaits. He’s written a blog post about it for the Fox Rage website, which you can read by clicking on this link.



Although we’ve caught some nice Perch this winter, they’ve been particularly hard to come by. That’s not been helped by the less-than-ideal conditions, but it hasn’t stopped the Pike playing ball! They’re not really what we’ve been targeting, but they’re great fun on light lure outfits and provide welcome action through barren periods whilst hoping we can tempt a stripey to take one of our lures.




Last month I fished a canal for a video for Fox Rage, talking through some of the lures I use for targeting Pike on canals, which you can view here.


During the last week of the season, the rain eased up, which meant my local river conditions began to improve and look pretty good. It always seems that the conditions are at their very best as March 14th looms! We decided to spend most of our time targeting Chub, with the odd couple of hours just before dark after Perch.


The Salmo Hornet had been an amazing crankbait for us throughout the course of the season, especially for Chub, and Dad and I both caught some immaculate fish on the penultimate day, which hit our lures like trains!



In one particular weir pool, I cast out and ended up with a wind knot. It was quite a bad knot so I had to cut the braid, losing around 20ft or so of line, which was frustrating. I hand-lined the old braid in, with my trace and lure still attached, to find a good Perch following my Hornet back! I paused the lure but unfortunately, the fish spooked and bolted off - how frustrating! It turned out to be my last encounter of the season with a Perch!

Whilst targeting the Chub, we caught a couple of stunning looking Brownies that beat the Chub to the lures...


On the last day we were optimistic of some more Chub action, but until dark, all our action had come from jack Pike, with the exception of a very nice fish Dad caught on a straight retrieved Replicant.


We continued fishing in to the dark, as this can be a good time to target the Chub. At 7.45pm Dad approached me and told me that a Chub had followed him in and he'd seen its big white lips turn away just as he was lifting the lure out of the water! He moved a few yards upstream and made another, longer cast past the swim the fish had followed him in from, hoping a change of angle might entice the fish in to taking. Moments later I heard some loud splashing from where he was fishing, and it turned out he'd hooked and landed the fish. It was caught on the very same 4cm Hornet that had caught so many Chub, from the start of the season right up until dark on March 14th. It seemed like a good fish to round up the season, so we decided to call it a day - or night!


That was my last fishing trip, and I’m now staying at home, listening to the government’s advice and putting the health and safety of our families, friends and the general public first. It gives me a chance to catch up and clean and organise fishing equipment, so when the restrictions are lifted it'll be a fresh start, and I'll be about as prepared as I can be, and absolutely raring to get back out on the bank or boat! Stay safe and well - hopefully we’ll all be fishing again soon!

Monday, 30 December 2019

Huchen fishing on the Una River in Bosnia


One of my favourite books to read as a boy was actually a book my Dad bought when he was a boy, which was all about freshwater fish species of Europe. I used to enjoy looking at the drawings of the fish and reading about what species we have here in the UK, but there were also some really interesting species in other parts of Europe that fascinated me, and perhaps the one I found the most unusual was the Huchen. I found it hard to believe that a Trout (or salmonid, to be precise) could grow to a metre and a half in length, with a diet consisting of Grayling, Barbel and Frogs! It was one of a handful of species in that book that really caught my eye and I hoped to fish for one day.


Anyway, last year, Farlows had an evening showing a screening of ‘Una - The One’, a film highlighting the issue of building hydropower dams on the Balkan rivers, especially the Una. If you get the chance, watch it, because it’s a fantastic film - the footage is amazing and I was stunned by how beautiful this river looked, and upset that there was a risk it could be dammed. One of the fish that would be affected by these plans were the Huchen, a fish that attracted anglers from all across Europe to fish the Una for. It was the first time I’d seen Huchen on film, and underwater footage showed these mysterious fish in all their glory - and in good numbers too. I went away from work that evening captivated and with an ambition to one day fish for the species. Here is the trailer for the film:


One of the people featured in the film was Anes Halkic of Una Discovery Pro Guides, who guides on the river. I contacted Ani and after picking his brains about the fishing and good times to visit, we decided to book a week’s fishing there for the first week of December.

We were picked up by Ani from Zagreb airport in Croatia, before embarking on a two and a half hour drive to Bosanska Krupa, our base for the week. We arrived at around lunchtime and joined a group of 6 anglers from Germany, Italy, Holland and Switzerland (some of whom had already been fishing for a week) at a restaurant beside the river, who were taking a break after fishing that morning. This would be our stop for breakfast each morning and where all the anglers would regroup for lunch, before heading back out for the afternoon fishing.


Then it was on to the chalet, where our accommodation was based and where we would prepare for our first day’s fishing on the Una the following morning. It was also an opportunity for us to get to know the guys we would be fishing with, and pick their brains about Huchen, over a few beers beside the log fire!


There isn’t a lot of information about Huchen fishing in English (most of it is in German), but when researching Huchen fishing back at home, Dad and I were surprised at the size of the lures and flies anglers were using for them. They certainly like a big meal, in fact the smallest lure we fished all week was a Salmo Hornet 9, but most of the time the lures we fished were between 18cm and 25cm in length. The primary diet of the Huchen in the Una river are Whitefish, Chub and Grayling, and our lures were imitating these fish. As some of these lures needed to be rigged on heavy jigheads to get down in the strong current, we each brought along with us a Fox Rage Terminator Big Bait Spin - 8’10” 40-160g rods, as heavy as some of the outfits we use for Pike back at home! Our 4000 and 5000 sized reels were spooled with 60lb braid, and a 44lb fluorocarbon leader, although Ani suggested a leader wasn’t necessary, so one of us tied a heavy snap to the end of the braid, which the lure was clipped on to.



It rained for most of our first days fishing, which turned to snow in the late afternoon. The river had been rising and slowly colouring up as the day went on, but despite the conditions not being 100%, we were really enjoying fishing in such stunning surroundings and learning about these unusual relatives of the Taimen. However, because of the lack of visibility, we couldn’t see the big boulders and snags that we were trying to cast around, and we ended up losing quite a few lures on the first day.

As it was getting dark, and the snow was falling heavily, I’d made a cast upstream and was just about to lift my 18cm Pro Shad out of the water, when I was taken by surprise as a Huchen of around 85cm emerged and engulfed the whole shad, almost leaping out of the water in the process! It all happened in the blink of an eye and unfortunately, the hook didn’t set, but to give you an idea of how aggressive the take was, the splash was so loud, Dad, who was about 20 metres downstream, thought I’d fallen in! It was great we’d seen a fish so early on our trip, and we were now both desperate to see one on the bank!


We woke up on the second morning to a thick blanket of snow, which made for a very scenic backdrop. However, the river had risen and coloured up even more overnight because of the rain before the snow. On the plus side though, if it stayed cold enough, the snow wouldn’t melt and the river would drop faster, and so would the colour. In the morning the conditions were at their worst, but by the end of the day the river was starting to clear. After a biteless morning for all the anglers, we regrouped for lunch at the restaurant before Ani took me and Dad to an area that has produced some very big Huchen over the years.


It was now just about dark, and at the time I was fishing with a Salmo Hornet 9 over a sandy bottom, when I felt some resistance. It felt a bit unusual, a bit like weed so I half-heartedly struck, when I began to feel some very wide, heavy headshakes. I’d hooked a big Huchen.


The fish tore off downstream, then after two more heavy headshakes, it threw the hooks. Huchen have very bony mouths and I hadn’t set the hooks properly. Ani and I were both gutted, probably Ani more than me because he knew I’d just lost a fish that could have been over a metre long. Then, just a matter of seconds after I lost the fish, the prayer calls from the Mosques echoed all across the valley. Obviously the timing was just a coincidence, but the fact it happened just after I’d lost, potentially, the fish of a lifetime, made for a very surreal experience, like I’d been beaten by the fish Gods!


As the river level dropped and the clarity improved as the week went on, the fish holding structures in the river became more visible, making it easier for us to see where we needed to fish our lures.



Despite the river conditions continually improving though, I went the next two days with no action at all. Dad, however, had a take on the third day in the dark (which messed up the Pro Shad he was using), but it was on the fourth day where he came the closest we’d come to a fish so far.



We’d just been looking at some trees that had been gnawed at by some Beavers, when our guide for the afternoon, Firduz (who is Ani’s brother), spotted a fish on a sandbar from quite a long distance. I didn’t actually see the next part happen as I was fishing further upstream, but Dad cast to the fish and it took his Pro Shad head first. He’d played it for a little while but I heard the voice of Markus (one of the anglers we were with) yell a word I can’t repeat on here! Firduz and I ran round and found Dad and Markus both staring at the ground in disbelief. Dad had just lost a dream Huchen, possibly over 110cm. Dad and I have targeted some difficult fish species over the years, but this one was really testing us both.

On the last morning, the river was really coming in to its own and looked the best it had all week. We would be fishing from a boat, mixing it up between flyfishing with a 9’ 10wt, and lure fishing.




For the duration of the week, there was a handmade jointed crankbait sitting on the dashboard of Ani and Firduz’s van, and Firduz suggested I should start off using it that morning.




As an Italian angler had told me earlier in the week after losing my big Huchen, if I felt something unusual, strike, and strike again! After half an hour or so of drifting downstream and swinging Firduz’s crankbait across pools, I had what felt like a proper take, and struck hard, and struck again!

The heavy headshakes began. I was praying that this one wouldn’t come off, and I managed to steer it through an area of strong current flowing through the middle of the river, to where the boat was positioned in the slack on the opposite bank from where I’d hooked the fish. I brought the fish up to the boat and Firduz grabbed the tail - I’d done it!!!


I was shaking with excitement. It was by no means a monster, but I was finally able to appreciate this mysterious predator in the flesh. The markings were stunning, almost like it had been sprinkled with grated pepper-sized black specks.


After a few quick pics, we lowered it back in to the water, and it soon gave a strong kick of its tail and zoomed down in to the depths. And, just like that, the hunt for a Huchen was over!

We met the other anglers from the group back at the restaurant for lunch and it turned out that my Huchen was one of three caught that morning, the most prolific fishing session in two weeks. We had high hopes for more Huchen that afternoon, and I was really hoping Dad would be able to land one.

For the last couple of hours we visited the canyon where the Una becomes quite narrow compared to the rest of the river. The pace of the river here was still very strong though, so we returned to the areas we'd been fishing earlier in the week.


The conditions in the afternoon were the best we'd had all week, but such is the unpredictability of Huchen fishing, no one in the entire group had a single bite all afternoon, which was strange as all of the bites and fish caught throughout the week (apart from on the last day) had come in the afternoon. But that’s Huchen fishing! I felt gutted for Dad, but the week had been a huge learning curve for us both and anybody who’s fished for Huchen will appreciate that targeting them is not as straightforward as it seems!


That evening, we were all invited to a big party that only takes place twice a year at the restaurant. There was free food for all so I’m not surprised that there were 2-300 people at the party - it was packed! Everybody had a great time - and drunk too much!

What an amazing experience it had been fishing for Huchen on the Una River. Bosnia is a beautiful country and Ani, Firduz and the guides at Una Discovery Pro Guides gave us a trip to remember, so a massive thank you to them! We’re already in the middle of planning another trip - Dad has unfinished business!

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Amazing autumn action targeting Perch!


A couple of years ago, Dad and I picked up our boat from it’s mooring on the Thames and brought it back home to fix on a new transom mount, and give it a new coat of paint on the interior. After we finished working on it, somehow, it ended up sitting in our garage until July this year, when we finally got around to taking it back down on the Thames.

Having not been on the river for such a long time, our first trip was all about getting back in to the swing of things, although we actually ended up having a brilliant days fishing with crank baits. We’d been really looking forward to using some of the Salmo crankbaits on the Thames, and the Bullhead, Hornet, Tiny and Lil’ Bug all worked very well, helping us boat over 60 fish that day - a mixture of Pike, Perch, and our main target, Chub.

On the next trip a week later, we explored further down the river and decided to check out an area Dad caught a 6lb 2oz Chub from a few winters ago on a twin tail, from a very high and coloured river. As we reached the area, to our surprise, we stumbled across numbers of good Chub basking on the surface, and there was one cracking fish in particular that looked over 6lb. We decided to actually leapfrog these fish as we’d spooked them slightly, and head on a bit further upstream so they could settle, then slowly drift down on to the fish, dropping the anchor where we felt it was necessary, and cast to them with small Hornets and the Tiny. The first few fish we cast to were not obliging, but then out of the blue, one slammed a 3cm Hornet, and less than 30 seconds later a 4lb+ Chub was in the net!

As we drifted down, we dropped anchor opposite a deep hole with an undercut bank, where I saw the big Chub a little while earlier. On Dad’s first cast, he had an aggressive take, which was almost too quick to hit, so he cast his 3cm Hornet back to the same spot, let it sink down under the bank, began his retrieve, and BANG! This was a big fish, and he did well to bully it away from the tree roots under the bank in what was quite a strong current. When it reached the slacker water where our boat was anchored, I scooped it in to the net and I knew it was his biggest Chub of the season so far!


Although we boated many more Chub and Perch that afternoon, Dad’s big Chub was the highlight of the day for us, and on our next trip we returned to the same area, hoping for more action. We caught a couple of smaller Chub to around 3lb 8oz, but the bigger fish were proving elusive. We did come across a huge shoal of Perch, and had some great action, landing nearly 80 of them in the space of a couple of hours! What was a nice surprise though was a pug-nosed Pike, Dad’s second from the Thames!

 

It was a bit disappointing that we didn’t manage to hook up with another big Chub, but these fish were smart, and if they aren’t in the mood to take, out-witting a big Chub, especially with lures, can be tricky. However, it was time to turn our attention to the opening of the lure fishing season on the midlands reservoirs. It looked like we weren’t going to be able to fish Grafham on the first day of the lure season, but thankfully a cancellation of a boat two days before meant we were able to keep up our ‘tradition’ of fishing the opening day of the lure fishing season there every year since 2006. It was a good idea we took that opportunity too!

On the first day we decided to target Pike. It felt strange casting 18cm Replicants after three months of casting tiny crank baits at Chub, but great at the same time. I always get the feeling that if a fish takes a lure of that size, there’s always the chance it could be big - and that’s exactly what happened on my sixth cast of the day, with a scraper 20lb+ Pike taking a Replicant in the Super Natural Zander colour. What a start!


The Super Natural Zander colour worked really well for me last year, and it seemed to be working well on this day too because I had another good hit shortly after landing that fish. I thought it was going to be another nice Pike, but the fish revealed itself to be a greedy Zander! It was certainly the biggest lure I’ve caught a Zander on, and obviously took a liking to one of its own kind!


The next few hours resulted in a couple more smaller Pike, until Dad and I came across a group of what looked like sizeable fish on the sidescan, and we assumed they were either Zander, Bream, or possibly big Perch. A switch to lighter tactics and 11cm Slick Shads was needed to provide an answer, and they turned out to be the latter! Perch of 3lb 4oz and 3lb resulted on the first couple of casts, but little did we know that we’d discovered some amazing Perch fishing, and this was to continue for the next couple of months.



I’d booked three days off work to fish the reservoirs that week, and the following two days were both half day/afternoon trips, as I needed to catch up with a few things. We mixed it up with fishing for Pike, Perch and Zander, and although we didn’t boat the same number of fish as we did on the first day, we did land some good sizes of all three species, and Dad rounded the three days fishing off with a last minute 20lb+ Pike, which took an 18cm Pro Shad.



It was the Perch fishing though that had been exceptional, and on our next few trips we concentrated on targeting stripeys. To cut a long story short, fishing a mixture of different tactics (shads, crank baits and chatter baits), we experienced some of the best Perch fishing we’ve both had over the following few trips, landing 57 over 40cm and 37 over 3lb, to 4lb.




The action was thick and fast, with regular double hookups, not to mention the odd nice Zander making an appearance too. This incredible sport continued until the water temperature reached about 12°C, when the fish started to move in to deeper water.






Switching between three completely different types of lures kept the bites coming. Fishing an 11cm Slick Shad on a straight retrieve, in a variety of different colours, was the most productive method for both Perch and Zander, but there were two other lures that really worked well too.







The Salmo Hornet 6 has also been brilliant, fished either on a straight retrieve or fished erratically on a stop-start retrieve.




If the action slowed up on the shads and crankbaits, we would try a chatterbait to see if that woke them up, and these also worked well, not just for Perch but Zander too.


It was a welcome distraction from the Pike, although we did manage to catch some in amongst fishing for the Perch and Zander. Now the cooler weather has arrived I’m looking forward to targeting Pike a bit more often - unless I get distracted by Perch and Zander again!



Back at the end of September and early October, Dad and I were privileged to be invited to flyfish the River Test with some of the guys from Farlows, on the first occasion for Salmon, and for Trout on the second trip. Our day targeting Salmon was unsuccessful, but we learnt a lot on our first trip fishing the Test, and whilst looking for Salmon, spotted some big Trout and Grayling, which we pursued on the next trip. The highlight of the second trip was Dad landing a lovely Brownie, that gave him an aerobatic fight and fought like stink on his 5wt! We also landed some Grayling, plus a Roach that beat a Brownie to the fly!



All in all, it’s been an exciting and action-packed Autumn. I was meaning to post this blog a couple of weeks ago, but ran out of time as Dad and I headed to Bosnia for a week of fishing on the Una River to target Huchen - what a stunning river the Una is! I'll write about our trip in the next couple of weeks...