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 228 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...

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Topwater summer Chubbin'!

In the weeks leading up to June 16th, I always become excited about the prospect of fishing in running water again. The same period is also a great time for flyfishing the midlands reservoirs for Pike, Perch and Zander, and with the reservoirs opening on May 16th, it makes the months of May and June one of my favourite times of year to fish in the UK.

This year we managed a few trips on the reservoirs in that month-long time period, and concentrated on fishing the shallow bays and around the weedbeds, primarily for Pike and Zander. We had a slow start on our first trip, but in the evening Dad landed his first Pike of the season, which was a cracker at 21lb 4oz and 107cm. This was shortly followed by a couple of nice Zander, one of which followed my fly right to the boat before nailing it!

Before I’d even finished setting my rod up on our second trip, Dad hooked a good Pike on his very first cast of the day, and after four follows from Pike in the first hour, we thought we’d have an action packed day ahead.

However, it took another 7 hours before we had any more fish in the boat, when we came across some Zander in around 12ft of water. Interestingly, over the next few trips we seemed to have hardly any action in the morning and early afternoon, and caught most of our fish after 4pm. There was one afternoon that, from 4pm until 8pm, produced 15 Zander - Dad’s first three fish, in total, weighed 2oz over 30lb! The action continued and at times we had double hookups - Zander put up an amazing fight on the fly, and we finished the day with three Zander over 10lb, and some of the best sport we’d enjoyed on the fly for a while.

Following on from that trip, Tom Clinton, the retail manager at Farlows, joined us for a half day trip hoping to catch his first Pike and Zander on the fly. We managed to tick off the first one, a Pike, within an hour of fishing, which put up an awesome fight on Tom’s homemade Epic 8ft 8in 8wt (or triple 8 as he calls it!)

I managed a jack Pike shortly after, and then for most of the afternoon we had no bites. As the light began to fade, Dad managed a nice Perch whilst I caught a Zander, but thankfully on his very last cast of the day, Tom hooked and landed a Zander of around 5lb!

Time flies when you’re having fun, and before we knew it, June 16th was just around the corner, and on the opening day we were keen to explore our local rivers with lures for Chub. I started the day using a Salmo Lil’ Bug, which was deadly for Chub last summer, whilst Dad started with the 5cm floating Salmo Minnow, another hardbait that has worked well for us, especially if the Chub aren’t quite up for taking lures off the surface.

On Dad’s very first cast of the day, just before 5.30am, he hooked in to what he thought was a Chub after casting his lure towards a few fish holding up below a weir, but it turned out a Pike had beaten the Chub to it! It was nice for him to catch a fish on the first cast of the day, but sadly, the disturbance had spooked the Chub. Apart from landing a small Perch and me losing a Chub, it went very quiet, so we decided to make a short drive to a club-owned stretch of river, only to find two people poaching, which was very annoying! The Chub we’d been hoping to stalk on the gravel runs were spooked and it wasn’t worth waiting around, so we decided to hop back in the car and check out another section of river, which, although looked very fishy, was very quiet, so we ended up relocating again.

At venue number four, I soon landed a nice Chub, which took a 5cm floating Minnow in Rainbow Dace. After taking a few pictures and releasing the fish, with all the walking we’d done, we were both feeling a bit tired and decided to call it a day, head home and prepare for a few hours fishing the following day.

The next day we ventured out for a few hours on the river Lea, starting at around 2pm, and we were joined again by Tom Clinton from Farlows. As we were walking along the river, Dad spotted a Carp swimming upstream. As he was watching it, it spooked a good Chub out from under some reeds, so he decided to move about 15 metres upstream and clipped on a 4cm Salmo Hornet in Trout. He cast as far as he could downstream, and then payed out some braid so the lure drifted a few more metres down, and then started retrieving, swimming it back underneath the marginal reeds. He’d almost finished his retrieve, when, from under the reeds, the Chub loomed out and took the Hornet! After a thrashing fight right under the rod tip, I quickly scooped the fish up in the net and we knew straight away it was over 5lb.

Later that afternoon, we were searching for Chub on a gravel run, when I spotted a fish that looked a lot like a Grayling. Grayling are very rare in the Lea and I had to look again as I couldn’t believe what I’d just seen - it was, indeed, a Grayling! I called Tom over and pointed the fish out to him, and as he was flyfishing, it was the perfect fish to target on the fly. He made a bow and arrow cast with his 3wt, and the Grayling took first time, but the fly came straight out of its mouth as Tom struck. The fish hadn’t spooked though, so Tom made another cast, and the Grayling took again! I slid down the bank with the net and got stung up badly by the nettles, but I didn’t care - it was a River Lea Grayling! Great going for only his second ever fish from the Lea!

I’d taken three days off work for the start of the season so that we could fish and also catch up on other things, so we ended up fishing the third day too, again just for a few hours. We visited an area where it’s sometimes possible to stalk Barbel on lures, and although we did find a few, they were very spooky and we didn’t manage to catch any. Dad spotted a good Chub though in amongst a group of Barbel, and watched it swim downstream underneath some trees. Just like the day before, he cast the 4cm Hornet as far as he could under the trees, and payed out around 5 metres of braid, before starting his retrieve. He watched the Chub come out from under the trees and smash the Hornet, almost identical to the take he’d had from the 5lb’er the day before - only this one was bigger!

After checking out other parts of the river, I spotted two Chub together in a snaggy area, so I clipped on a 7cm Rage Critter and cast in front of the fish. Thankfully, the larger of the two snapped it up and it turned out to be another 5lb+ Chub! Apart from a small Perch, that was all we caught, but it was nice that we’d both ended the session with a good Chub each.

We had to wait until the following week before the next trip, and again, they were just a couple of short sessions. The Barbel that had frustrated us the week before were our main target, and on my very first cast of the day, I managed to stalk a nice Barbel of around 5lb on a creature bait rigged on a 3g jig head. That was the only Barbel we caught from that section, but a couple of hours later, on a different section of river, Dad also managed to stalk a Barbel, which was a slightly bigger fish that weighed 6lb 1oz. It was an awesome take (one of the most aggressive I’ve seen from a Barbel) and a great fight!

We ventured further upstream and Dad spotted the tail of what he thought was a good Chub. He couldn’t see its head and it was in a really awkward spot, laying under some streamer weed. He dropped his creature bait through a tiny gap in the streamer weed, and watched the tail accelerate forward, so he struck and all hell broke loose! After a crazy aerobatic fight, he landed one of the best looking Brown Trout I’ve ever seen from our local rivers! As it was really hot we didn’t want to keep it out of the water for too long (famous last words), so we prepared for some quick photos. As he held the fish up to the camera, it leaped out of his hands and straight back in the river! Luckily, I’d just managed to shoot one photo!

Two more Chub that took 3cm Hornets in Trout completed a great afternoon!

At the end of July, we decided to explore a river that neither of us had fished for several years, but we were keen to see what it was like and if there were any big Chub there that would be up for taking lures. We spotted some very big fish, and although we couldn’t tempt any, we did land quite a few small Chub on the new 2cm Lil’ Bug. What we also spotted, which was very good to see, were three Eels - one of them was actually stalking a shoal of Minnows on a gravel run, and it was hiding under the rocks and streamer weed waiting to pounce, which was fascinating to watch! I actually tried to stalk it on a Rage Micro Grub, as I’ve never caught an Eel on a lure before - it did go for it, but as it took, I struck and the lure came flying out of it’s mouth!

A week later we returned, and although we didn’t see the same number of big Chub as we did on the first trip, I did manage to tempt one nice fish in to taking a Lil’ Bug. Although it wasn’t a monster, it's hard to beat fishing for them topwater - it followed the Lil' Bug for about five feet, before absolutely wolfing it off the surface!

We’d planned our next trip to be on the Thames, but looking at the forecast (predicting thunderstorms and heavy downpours) we decided to postpone it for another day, and instead tried a different section of river we hadn't fished for maybe five years. Dad got off to a great start with a 5lb+ surface caught Chub on his first cast of the day! Around an hour later I had a brilliant take off the surface too, and netted another 5lb'er! We had a few more opportunities at Chub, but unfortunately they didn't quite want to take, before the heavens opened and we decided to call it a day.

After the storms, the weather cooled down, and we both thought it might be an ideal time to have a trip back to a reservoir flyfishing for predators. Not only that, we were keen to try out a new fly rod. Over the past two or three years, my Dad has suffered from tennis elbow, which he now has in both arms, so to make casting a bit more bearable, we treated ourselves to a new 9ft 9wt. Whilst I started fishing with my Sage TCR, Dad set up our new toy - a Scott Meridian 9’ 9wt, which is super light, and has a slower action than my TCR and his 9’ 9wt Sage TCX, and we were hoping it would make casting heavy lines less tiring.

It took a while to catch our first fish, but Dad boated the first fish of the day, and christened the rod in style with a 43cm Perch, weighing 3lb 4oz!

By the end of the day we’d managed to boat a ‘Grafham Grand Slam’ between us - Pike, Perch and Zander. We were super impressed with the rod, and we’re both looking forward to using it again!

Earlier this month we managed to get our boat back down on the Thames again. We’ve had a few trips there over the last month, but this blog post is getting a bit long now - so I’ll save that for next time!

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Lure fishing for Giant Snakehead on Temenggor Dam in the Royal Belum National Park, Malaysia

About 10 years ago, I went on a school trip to Lille in France and ended up bringing back an issue of a fishing magazine called Voyages de Peche, which has now become one of my favourite magazines. Inside was a feature I found really interesting, which was about fishing for Giant Snakehead and Jungle Perch (also known as Sebarau and Hampala Barb) in Thailand and Malaysia. Fascinated by both of these unusual looking species, I dreamt of fishing for them one day and did a lot of research about where to fish for them and how people target them. One of the places mentioned in the feature was Temenggor Dam, in the Royal Belum National Park, home to some of the biggest Giant Snakehead in the world. Fast forward 10 years, and I’ve recently returned from that very place, which was every bit as amazing as it came across to me after reading that feature for the first time.

My Dad and I had been seriously looking in to travelling there for 2-3 years, but never booked a trip because of the lack of information about the venue, guides and what the best time of year to visit was. However, at the end of last year, Nicolas Jamin, who we fished with in Sri Lanka, fished in the Royal Belum National Park and had a great trip. I contacted him for more information and he pointed me in the direction of Benny Chew, a guide who runs ‘Malaysia Peacock Bass Heaven - Pro Guide Fishing’. Coincidentally, my Mum had also been wanting to go to Malaysia for years as she wanted to visit Penang, famous for its mix of cultures and food, and which was only 3 hours from the Royal Belum Park. We started to plan a trip that would combine fishing at Temenggor Dam with a week in Penang, and by the time it was all booked, we were all very excited about finally visiting Malaysia!

It took 28 hours to get from Heathrow to Penang, via Doha in Qatar, and luckily we’d planned to spend 3 days chilling out in Penang after the long journey. I say ‘chilling’ out - it was seriously hot and humid, and took us a couple of days to climatise! Within a day of arriving, Dad and I had to get our fishing fix, and ended up Light Rock Fishing outside the Lost Paradise Resort, where we were staying. Within a few casts Dad hooked and landed an Orangespotted Grouper, a great start to the trip! Other species we landed I’ve now identified to be Belanger’s Croaker, Javelin Grunter and Scaly Threadfin Anchovy.

After three days in Penang, it was then time to embark on the three hour drive to the Belum Rainforest Resort, an eco resort on the shores of Temenggor Dam, just outside the national park. Later that afternoon, we met Benny Chew for the first time, and he gave us a run down of how we would approach the first days fishing. He also selected a few lures that we’d brought along that he thought looked best to start us off, and gave us a time to meet him at the dock in the morning. That night, we set up our rods - we each had a Fox Rage Terminator Pro Swim and Soft rod, which is 7’2” and casts 20-60g (3/4oz-2oz). Both of us used high ratio bait casting reels for retrieving lures quickly, and both were spooled with 60lb (0.25mm) braid. An FG knot was used to connect the braid to a leader of around 5ft in length of 44lb fluorocarbon, with an extra strong snap at the end.

At 7.30am the next day, we met up with Benny and Mei, who was to be our boatman for the next four days, and left the resort for an army station on the edge of the park, to register and collect our passes for access to the park. It was after we left the army station that we were able to finally appreciate how stunning the Belum rainforest really is, as we travelled up the winding flooded rivers deeper in to the jungle. I’ve been very lucky to have fished in and travelled to some amazing places, but this place was so wild it reminded me of Jurassic Park!

As we stopped the boat in the first area and the motor was cut, the low-lying fog, low pitched booming sound (which turned out to be monkeys) and hornbills calling made it feel quite eery, as if we were isolated and completely cut off from civilisation. This would be our first attempt at targeting rising Giant Snakehead, or ‘Toman’, as they are known in Malaysia. These dinosaur-looking fish are air breathers, and come up to take gulps of air every 15-20 minutes or so. The aim was to spot the rising fish and cast our lures either straight to the roll of where the fish had risen, or in the direction of where the fish was descending. This was much easier said than done, as the Snakehead swim straight back down after taking a gulp of air - our casting had to be absolutely spot on and if our lures weren’t in the water within 2-3 seconds, we’d probably missed our chance. We started off with surface lures - I tried a buzz bait, whilst Dad used a Salmo Bass Bug, a surface wake bait which looks like a giant beetle. It took a good few hours to get in to the swing of casting so quickly and accurately, and in that time Dad had one fish explode on the Bass Bug, but unfortunately didn’t connect with it.

We had a change of location later that morning to a deeper area of the lake with lots of tree stumps, and Benny suggested changing to crank baits here. With these, we needed to cast a few feet over the rising Snakehead and crank down quickly to intercept the fish as it swam back down. Dad quickly spotted a fish rise by a stump, cast to it and within a few reel turns he struck in to a hard fighting fish. There were a few nervy moments throughout the fight, but it wasn’t long before Dad landed his first Giant Snakehead!

We had the chance to admire this amazing fish in the flesh for the first time, and when unhooking it, we were both amazed how powerful its jaws were - so powerful, that it had basically crushed the crankbait, inserting several holes in the body, which had filled with water and had turned a very buoyant floating lure in to a very fast sinking one!

Shortly after, Dad caught another Snakehead, before we started to see less activity from Snakehead rising, and Benny suggested targeting Jungle Perch (or Sebarau as they are known in Malaysia) for an hour before lunch. For the Jungle Perch we were using lighter outfits - either a Rage Terminator Pro Power Fishing rod, which is 7’4” and casts up to 28g (1oz), or the Terminator Pro Jigger spinning rod, which is 7ft and casts up to 40g (1 1/2oz). We headed to the mouth of a creek, where we used much smaller, flashier lures such as spoons and tail spinners. During the dry season (when we visited), Jungle Perch stay in deep water and can be found around structure such as sunken trees and roots, and after ten minutes of casting in a very fishy looking area, I lost a fish, and then a few casts later Dad hooked and landed his first Jungle Perch - what a first morning he’d had!

Now it was time for lunch. Each day, Benny brought with him fantastic beef and fish curries, with rice, salad, chicken and a boiled egg, and it was nice to have a break from the relentless heat and humidity. We didn’t catch any more Snakehead that day, but it had been a huge learning curve and I was really hoping I could boat my first ‘Toman’ the next day.

The next morning, we headed deep in to the jungle, past indigenous ‘Orang Asli’ tribal villages to a favourite area of Benny’s. I started the day with a chatter bait and within a few minutes I had an extremely aggressive take, that tore off and quickly busted at the knot joining the leader to the lure, all within a few seconds - not the start I was hoping for, but I probably had the drag set too tight and Benny reckoned it was a big fish (5kg+). The sheer power of the take and initial run reminded me of the GT’s I’d caught in Sri Lanka. Ten minutes later, I hooked another fish, which I thought I had under control, until everything went loose. I was surprised it had come off as I thought I’d played it well, but it turned out the hook had opened up!

After another 45 minutes with no bites, we moved again. Here I hooked another Snakehead in open water - surely I could land this one?! The fish came up to the boat, and as it approached the net, I thought ‘it’s in the bag’, but about a foot from the net, the fish shook it’s head, and came off! I was absolutely devastated and was starting to wonder whether I would actually land one of these renowned fighters. We decided to take a break and venture up a river where we would stop for lunch, in one of the most scenic spots I’ve probably ever been, just three miles from the border of Thailand. It was the perfect place to reflect on our morning’s fishing, and how we would approach the afternoon.

After lunch, we were motoring downstream when we spotted some Snakehead rising. We decided to stop and make a few casts, and I had an almighty slam and hooked in to a fish. We were in a fairly shallow and snaggy spot, so I tried to not give the fish an inch of line. As it tired, I was able to bully it away from the snags, and moments later it was in the net! The relief of landing my first Giant Snakehead was immense, and I punched the air in celebration!

Things seemed to click from then onwards. We returned to the area where I’d lost the two fish in the morning, and in 45 minutes, we managed to boat four Giant Snakehead between us to 4.5kg - the biggest fish of the trip so far, all caught on spinnerbaits and chatter baits. All three of my fish were caught on a fire tiger spinnerbait, which from that day onwards was dubbed ‘the lucky lure!’

The next day, we explored another river joining the huge Temenggor Dam, and got off to a good start. Dad managed to catch the first fish of the day on a Salmo Bass Bug.

This was one of only a handful of fish we caught on surface lures on the trip, despite having quite a few hits on the Bass Bug. We realised after the first day that we had to make a few changes to the lure, and by replacing the treble hook on the back with a 4XX split ring, size 7 swivel, another 4XX split ring and a 3X strong treble hook, this helped the hookup rate massively and it became the most successful surface lure of the trip.

That morning, we spotted a family of Otters playing on the bank, and just up the bank we saw a Wild Boar too!

Whilst having lunch that day, we’d pulled up under a canopy in the shade and tied the boat to the bank, when Benny and Mei suddenly went in to a bit of a panic. It turned out Mei had spotted a huge centipede, which was almost a foot long, and it was close to crawling in to the boat! Apparently this was a small one and they pack a pretty nasty bite too! This was just one of the many fantastic creatures we saw whilst in the rainforest.

We returned to an area where we’d caught a couple of Snakehead in the morning, and I put ‘the lucky lure’ back on, which turned out to be a good move as I quickly had a brutal take from a fish that tore off towards some stumps. Thankfully I managed to slow it down, steer it away and guide it into open water. I could tell this fish had a bit more weight to it, but when it finally surfaced we all yelled in shock, as this was a ‘mama Toman’, a huge Snakehead that was clearly too big to fit in the net. Whilst still playing the fish we had to think of a way of getting it in the boat without using the net, so when I had it under control, Mei had to almost cuddle the fish and lift it in to the boat, which was a nervous moment, but it worked and then when it was in the boat, we were all so excited, we were probably the noisiest people in the jungle at that time!

Temenggor Dam has produced some of the biggest Giant Snakehead in the world, and although this wasn’t as big as those record breakers, it was in another league compared to the Toman we’d caught previously. It was a very special fish for me, and once again the lucky lure had produced the goods! It turned out be the biggest fish of the trip - but not the biggest we’d see…

On our last day’s fishing, we decided to spend the morning targeting Jungle Perch, as I hadn’t caught one. Whilst fishing for them, we saw a Snakehead come up and take a gulp of air in very shallow water, so whilst Dad was flyfishing, I quickly put down the lighter spinning outfit I’d been using for Jungle Perch, and grabbed my Snakehead rod. I cast to the rolling fish and as I was about to lift the lure out of the water,  I watched a huge Giant Snakehead absolutely demolish ‘the lucky lure’, by far the most aggressive take of the trip. As it was only a few feet deep where we were fishing, the fish steamed off towards some rocks a hundred or so yards away downstream. I did manage to stop it by increasing the drag to the maximum tension, but then it tore off again and achieved its mission of cutting the braid around a big rock. Not only had I lost an even bigger Snakehead than the fish from the day before, I’d lost the lucky lure.

I did manage to catch three Snakehead that morning, but all juvenile fish whilst targeting Jungle Perch. They seemed to really like a gold spoon! Later that afternoon, Dad landed his biggest fish of the trip, estimated at around 5kg, whilst being watched by an elephant on the bank!

It had been an amazing four days fishing in stunning surroundings, catching 20 Giant Snakehead between us. Benny and Mei were both fantastic guides and we really enjoyed sharing the boat with them - we had a great laugh, especially when Benny was giving a running commentary when we were playing fish! Benny also guides fishing for Peacock Bass near his home, and also hosts trips to Borneo fishing for Borneo Black Bass, big Barramundi, Grouper, Jungle Perch and other species, which sounds really interesting - hopefully that’s a trip to look forward to in the future!

Although I’d succeeded catching the Giant Snakehead (which was the main target of the trip), I hadn’t managed to land a Jungle Perch. We hadn’t visited Malaysia at the best time of year for Jungle Perch, but the next day we got chatting to a couple of guides who work at the Belum Rainforest Resort, who had caught Jungle Perch from the shore in an area nearby. Excited after receiving that information, we were up very early the next morning at that very spot, before we had to check out at 11am later that morning!

I was casting out to 60+ft of water, letting the spoon sink all the way to the bottom, before beginning a fast straight retrieve, and on my fourth cast, BANG! I’d hooked a fish, and it didn’t feel like a Snakehead. It fought quite similarly to our Perch, except this fish liked to go on short blistering runs - surely it was a Jungle Perch? As it made it’s way up from the depths, it revealed itself be my target - better late than never! They’re a stunning looking fish, like a cross between a Mahseer and a Roach, and are great fighters! I must have found a group of them, because over the next half an hour, I landed another three Jungle Perch.

As the sun came up, the bites dried up and we decided to call it time on our fishing at Temenggor Dam. We had a fantastic time in the Royal Belum National Park, not just for the fishing but for the amazing wildlife and scenery too. I can highly recommend the Belum Rainforest Resort, where we had a great stay and great food, and also the Lost Paradise Resort, which we returned to when we arrived back in Penang.

Our tour guide in Penang, Bonnie, became a good friend and was very knowledgeable - she showed us around many of the highlights Penang island has to offer. Who and what Bonnie doesn't know about Penang isn't worth knowing! We also managed some more light rock fishing in Penang too, adding a few more unusual species to our tally for the trip.

Hopefully we’ll be able to return in the future, and sample some more of the fantastic fishing Malaysia has to offer…