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...

Thursday, 25 March 2021

End of season lure tactics for tricking difficult perch

At the beginning of the year, my Dad and I always look forward to putting a plan together for where we’re going to fish and what species we’re going to target for the last couple of months of the river season. However, with tier 4 in place at the turn of the year, followed by the start of the third national lockdown five days later, we were limited to staying local for fishing. We’re quite fortunate though to have a few different stretches of rivers very close to home, as well as a couple of gravel pits, so we were lucky we had some places to fish.

Our first outing of 2021 was more about getting some fresh air after Christmas and New Year, but it turned out to be a red letter day for my Dad. He’s written about the day in much more detail on the Salmo website, but to quickly summarise, he landed his first brace of 4lb+ perch from a river within three casts of each other! Here is the link to his feature: https://www.salmo-fishing.com/home/articles/cold-water-crankbait-fishing-for-perch/

 

Just three days later, we entered the third national lockdown. At first, it sounded like angling would not be permitted during this time, so we’d cleaned down all of our lure rods ready to be put away, when it was announced just two days later by the Angling Trust that we could continue to fish locally. Although this was fantastic news, and we were back out fishing a week later, the footpaths along the riverbanks were extremely busy with walkers, runners and cyclists. There were even swimmers at times! Fishing on weekdays or at dawn or dusk wasn’t much quieter than fishing on a weekend either. It was great to see people getting their daily exercise and fresh air, but it made keeping a distance whilst fishing extremely difficult. After a couple of short but successful trips, we thought the safest thing to do was to stop fishing on the river stretches.

In the following four to five weeks, we had an incredible amount of rain, sleet and snow, that put the rivers in flood, as well as a couple of local lakes. One of the lakes though, being situated a bit higher than the river running adjacent to it, avoided the influx of cold floodwater and remained crystal clear. After a few weeks of not wetting a line, we decided to have a go at quiver tipping for the roach there.

It would be the first time either of us had fished with bait for about three years, so it felt strange sitting on a seatbox not moving around much, unlike when you're lure or flyfishing! Fishing with red maggots, we had success on our first trip, landing some quality fish up to 1lb 7oz. The problem was though that because it was very cold and the gravel pit was crystal clear, the roach wouldn’t switch on until at very last light. With night fishing currently not allowed, you’d have a few minutes of frantic action, then it was time to pack up, which was a bit frustrating!

By late February, high pressure brought with it some settled weather, and the river levels and colour finally began to drop. Although the water temperatures were still very cold from the snowmelt, we were fairly confident that after such a prolonged period of rivers out of sorts and a lack of angling pressure, the fish could be hungry. Sometimes, I think it takes a few days for the fish to become used to the changing conditions, and there’s nothing quite like using a crankbait to switch inactive predators on.

  
Banging a Rattlin' Hornet or Bullhead along the bottom worked well for the perch, whilst the sinking Minnow caught a few chub.

 
 

The high pressure also brought with it unseasonably warm temperatures in to the mid teens - a nice change from the snow and freezing weather! I noticed in the coming days in our koi pond that the water temperature began to rise, and over the next couple of fishing trips, I also noticed the odd crayfish scuttling along the bottom - something I’d not seen in my local venues for a while, and it prompted us to try some of the Strike King creature baits. Strike King was one of the first American brands I used in the UK when I first started lure fishing, and when I heard the news they were being distributed by Fox Rage and launched in Europe this February, I was very excited! In the lead up to the launch, we’d been trying out some of the creature baits, and soon had a few favourites for perch and chub - the Baby Craw, the Ned Bug, and Ned Ocho.

The first of the three soft baits has large twin tail claws, that help it fall slowly when cast to structure such as overhanging bushes and trees. I’ve found five grams is a nice weight to get the claws swimming. The Ned Bug has a smaller profile, with four appendages that have a subtle action as the lure falls - a three gram ned or offset ned hook is perfect. The bottom lure in the picture above is the Ned Ocho, a ned-style worm that has grooves in the sides to give the softbait more movement. All worked well in those final few weeks of the season, and the Baby Craw produced my biggest perch of 2021, weighing 4lb 2oz.


During the lockdown, it’s been interesting fishing stretches I hadn’t fished for a long time and would have otherwise overlooked to travel further afield, but they’ve thrown up a few surprises, such as the 4lb 2oz perch. Another surprise came two days before the end of the season, whilst targeting chub with creature baits. We’d fished a stretch of around half a mile or so, catching a few pike to near double figures on the Baby Craw and Ned Bug, when we reached a spot that had produced the odd perch for us in the past.

 

Dad fished it with no joy, so after he moved on, I decided to scale down from the size of lures he’d been using, as I felt there had to be some perch there. I switched to a small, 5cm shad, rigged on a 3g size 2 jighead - a Rage Micro Tiddler Fast (the smallest of the shads in the picture below). A few casts later, I had a delicate bite, and struck instinctively.

 
 
At first I thought I’d hooked a big chub, but I saw the tail and realised I’d actually hooked a barbel! It tore off downstream and a serious battle followed, especially with the strong current. My 7-21g rod was bent double, but thankfully I managed to land the fish. I’ve caught a few barbel on lures during the summer and autumn months when I’ve stalked them with creature baits, but this was the first I’d caught on a shad, and the first I’d caught by accident whilst targeting perch!

Although we didn’t catch any of the chub we were hoping for, my Dad did go on to land two cracking perch on crankbaits at dusk, after a move to a different stretch.

 

 
It’s been nearly a couple of weeks since the season ended, and now it’s a case of patiently waiting until we can travel out of our area. I’m looking forward to fishing further afield - let’s cross our fingers we don’t have any more lockdowns!

Friday, 8 January 2021

Lockdown lure fishing!

This autumn and winter was always going to be different to previous years. We’ve been in and out of lockdown and it’s been near on impossible to make plans for anything, let alone fishing! I’m pleased that Dad and I spent much of our fishing during the summer and early autumn exploring new venues and venturing further afield, as we’re now unable to travel far with the third national lockdown currently in place.

Thankfully, when the second lockdown was in force in November, the weather conditions, as well as river conditions, were good for much of the month, so our fishing was mainly based on local stretches of rivers within a 15 minute drive of our house. I really enjoyed fishing them, as it was the first time we’d concentrated on them this season. Creature baits and crankbaits seemed to be the most effective types of lures, and over the course of the month we caught some nice perch, mainly fishing short sessions either early in the morning or at dusk.

 
 

 
 
One of my favourite fish of November though was an immaculate chub of 5lb 12oz (57cm), that took a Salmo Hornet when fishing in to the dark!

This year, my birthday fell under lockdown two, so Dad and I headed out fishing to celebrate! I must admit, I have a pretty poor track record of success when I've been fishing on previous birthdays, but the conditions on the river we'd chosen to fish were good - it had a tinge of colour with a good flow, so I was hopeful that my luck may change this time! After a few hours with just a small jack to show for my efforts, a change to a creature bait quickly registered a good bite. I struck in to a heavy head-shaking fish, which, as it boiled on the surface, revealed itself to be a very nice perch. I went to grab the net and one heavy headshake later, it came off! I was gutted, but I quickly checked the sharpness of the hook and cast back to the area where I'd hooked that fish, and instantly had another bite! Although it wasn't quite as big as the last fish, I was very happy to land an immaculate looking perch - a great present on a strange birthday!

We’d caught some nice fish in the second lockdown, but after a few weeks of trips fishing the same venues and stretches, we were both ready for a change of scenery. Shortly after we came out of the second lockdown and in to the tier system (tier 2 at this point!), I met up with Fox Rage media man Samim Abbas on a different river, and we put together a short film about lure choice, mainly focusing on types of lures, profiles and colour choices:

A few days later, Dad and I had our first reservoir trip since the end of October. We were greeted with freezing fog, which didn’t clear all day and made for an eery session afloat, as it was so thick at times you couldn’t see your lure land in the water!

 
 
We both started the day fishing Slick Shads, which had worked so well on our last reservoir trip six weeks before, either on a very slow, straight retrieve, or hopped along the bottom. A lot can change in six weeks though, so we had other tactics in mind just in case shads weren’t working on the day.
 
 
It didn’t take long for Dad to have a bite though, and that was the first of many between 10am and 1pm! We ended the day with quite a few perch, all over 3lb 8oz, to a biggest of 4lb 1oz. I’d managed my second brace of ‘4’s’ in two trips, and the last cast of the day also resulted in a nice pike!

 
 
 


We returned a week later, hoping that the perch would be just as obliging. The fishing was a bit slower than the previous week, but I think that was more down to the two of us not experimenting with more tactics, as another boat had an exceptional days perch fishing, using other methods.

A week later, our area moved from tier 2 to tier 4 in the space of 24 hours, again ruling out anywhere other than local venues. November was relatively dry apart from the last week or so, but December was a real washout, to say the least! Rivers were in the fields for much of the month, but there were a couple of days where a couple of stretches of local rivers were just about fishable with lures. Flooded, coloured rivers in the winter months are probably the most difficult conditions you can ask for in lure fishing, but when the going gets tough, you can’t go too far wrong fishing a small, bright crankbait. They seem to ring the dinner bells for inactive predators, which Dad proved with a couple of very nice perch. 

 
 
The river conditions were still pretty poor on Boxing Day, and with the rivers still quite muddy they weren't the kind of conditions you'd expect to watch a perch take a lure. Dad was just about to lift the Salmo Bullhead he was using out of the water, when a 45cm perch took him by surprise as it loomed up from the murky margins, and slurped in his crankbait as it was floating back up to the surface!

The opportunity to fish didn’t last long though - a few hours of heavy rain quickly put the rivers out of sorts again for the rest of the Christmas period! We've just had the one trip since the New Year, and Dad had an exceptional days fishing, but I'm going to save that for the next time I write on my blog!

2020 was certainly a challenging year, but I have a few positives to look back on. I enjoyed exploring various rivers I hadn’t fished before during the summer and early autumn, had some great trips bass fishing in estuaries, and also experienced some fantastic predator fishing on reservoirs. This year is going to be a tough start, but fingers crossed in a few months time the situation will be a lot better for all of us. Stay safe everyone!

Monday, 16 November 2020

Red letter days


Over the years, September 1st has been a generous day to me and my Dad. It’s the day that Grafham and Rutland reservoirs open for their lure fishing season, and after experiencing some incredible fishing last year, especially for perch, we had high hopes for the first two days that we had booked. We were also looking forward to trying out our new toy - a Minn Kota Terrova iPilot electric trolling motor.

What a contrast it was to last year and previous years though. Over two days, between the two of us, we really struggled for bites. It wasn’t the action packed start we were hoping for, although it only takes one bite to change a difficult days fishing in to a successful one - and that can definitely happen when you’re fishing on reservoirs. Dad’s first bite on the first day came from a perch of 4lb 3oz (47cm) which made the trip more than worthwhile! It took a chatterbait fished on a straight retrieve.

Two days later, I had a boat booked for Rutland, and I was hoping the zander would be more obliging there than on the opening two days at Grafham. I fished with Hugh Arnott, who was in to the fourth day of a challenge he’d set himself, which was to catch 60 species of fish in 60 days, raising money for three angling related charities. Hugh was hoping for his first ever zander, and what better venue to try for one than Rutland?! Or so we thought…

The morning was quite productive, with pike up to around 10lb, a few nice perch, and I’d also caught a couple of zander, but Hugh needed to catch one, not me! After midday though, we started to struggle for bites. 

Zander can often switch on right at the end of the day though, and with just half an hour before the boats needed to be in, Hugh boated his target species! We were both ecstatic! Fishing all around the country in both freshwater and saltwater, Hugh went on to land an incredible 75 species over the 60 days of his challenge - a phenomenal achievement!

 
Over the following few weeks, we mixed up our fishing between reservoir outings and exploring rivers and gravel pits. There was one stretch of river that we’d explored in the summer that we thought was worth a revisit. Chub would be the target species, and with the water being crystal clear, we had some awesome fun spotting, casting to, and watching the fish take the lures!

I’d already caught a nice chub before I spotted three much bigger fish together on a bend. Creeping up very slowly, I made a cast to a small slack area on the other side of the river, so that when I started to retrieve in to the main current, it would swing my Salmo Rattlin’ Hornet Shallow right in front of their noses. Two of them drifted back downstream, but the biggest of the fish remained interested, and chased down the lure, before slamming it in the margins!

The follow and take was exciting enough, but the chub also turned out to be a new personal best of 6lb 5oz and 60cm! Dad and I went on to catch another six chub, plus a couple of perch and pike, in what turned out to be an action packed day!


 
 
A few weeks later, I met up with Fox Rage cameraman, Samim Abbas, for a film about lure fishing on rivers in the autumn. With the river conditions looking ideal, I was confident I should be able to get a few bites for the camera. Samim was actually running a bit late as he’d been caught up in traffic on the M6, so I started fishing before he arrived as I didn’t want to miss fishing at dawn, one of the peak times of day. It’s always nice when you get off to a good start for a film, and on my first two casts I managed to land two perch, with the biggest being 3lb 1oz (42cm).

Samim arrived shortly afterwards and it turned out that the perch were really fired up…

Dad and I have been enjoying exploring a new gravel pit we’ve joined, which I mentioned in my last post. Fishing a new venue is always exciting, and my first perch from the lake has so far been my biggest from the venue, although I’m convinced there are bigger in there…

 

Chatterbaits are one of my favourite types of lures, especially for searching new venues. Fishing a chatterbait of around 4-5 inches in length, you have the chance of catching not only pike, but they’re not too much of a mouthful for a big perch, and zander love them too. Because of their profile, they sink at a slightly slower rate than lures that are streamlined, and you often get bites on the drop when using them. They typically occur when casting to structure, but occasionally, they happen in open water. The chances of the latter happening on a massive gravel pit are slim, but my bladed jig must have landed within a few feet of this metre long pike's nose, as it took the lure on the drop on my first cast in a new swim!

During that time we continued to have the odd trip to Rutland and Grafham, which seemed trickier than previous seasons. What seemed apparent was that feeding spells seemed to be very short - you may get two or three bites in a short space of time, then have no more bites for hours on end.

The reservoirs are full of baitfish at the moment, more than I ever remember there being - look at the sonar screen when you’re motoring across Grafham and you’ll see what I mean! That’s probably because the last couple of winters have been very mild, and the coarse fish have had successful spawning seasons, so silverfish numbers have boomed. There certainly isn’t a lack of food for the predatory fish, so they don’t need to hunt around as much, which we think may have something to do with the short feeding spells. That’s one theory anyway!

For example, on a trip at the end of September, Dad and I had four bites between us - two of those came between 11am and 11.15am, and the next two came between 5.30pm and 5.45pm.

 
 

Three weeks passed between that trip and the next on a reservoir, and we were hoping that the predators might have switched on as the temperatures had cooled. Neither of us had a bite after six hours of fishing though, but all of a sudden we came across a group of what turned out to be some very nice perch. Fishing Slick Shads and Zander Pro Shads either jigged or on a straight retrieve, by the end of the day, we’d ended up landing six of them to a best of 4lb 1oz, which Dad caught. 

 

We were desperate to get back, but with Storm Alex approaching the UK, strong winds were forecast for the next eight days, and I booked a boat for the calmest of those days, which was expected to be 17mph - bumpy conditions on a big reservoir!

Putting up with the wind was made worthwhile though in the first half hour of fishing. I had a take from what felt like either a zander or a very heavy perch - and it was the latter. At 4lb 6oz and 47cm, it was my biggest ever perch from Grafham - what a start!

We knew, going from what we’d learned from previous trips, that the feeding spells were short and there was a good chance we may get some more bites over the next 15 minutes or so, so as soon as we released the fish we quickly started fishing again. On the very next cast, I had another bite and was in again! As it came closer to the boat I could feel this had much more weight to it and it was tearing drag, so I was almost certain it was a pike. I had to back the drag off a little as I was only using 20lb braid on a 2500 sized reel, so didn’t want to apply too much pressure, but thankfully the fight didn’t last very long anyway, and a big pike was in the net! At 23lb 4oz and 105cm, it was an amazing brace of fish!

To say the fish were switched on was an understatement because two casts later, I had another take, which turned out to be another big perch of 4lb 1oz, and as I was releasing that fish, Dad had hooked up and I don’t think I’d even put the net down before I scooped up his perch. It was the ’smallest’ of the day weighing 3lb 15oz!

 

True to recent form, that ridiculous 45 minute spell of bites suddenly came to an end, but it took a couple of hours to sink in what had just happened. I actually joked with Dad that all I needed now was a double figure zander to complete a grand slam of big predators, although I knew the chances of that happening were pretty slim as Grafham has been fishing hard for the zander this year. But you never know on there…

We ended up exploring some different areas for a couple of hours. We’d caught all our fish so far on 11cm Slick Shads in UV Green Pumpkin, but the only trouble was that even before we’d started fishing there were only a couple left in that colour in our box. Dad was using one and by the time mine had caught 2 big perch and a 20lb+ pike, the soft bait had been trashed, so I changed to the closest colour to it - UV Dark Oil, which basically has a dark green back and a slighter lighter belly. Casting around, I had a take - and as I played it, I realised it felt a lot like a zander. As it emerged, it indeed was a zander, and a good one too! It measured 74cm - short, but very fat, and it weighed 10lb 2oz! I was literally speechless.

One more nice pike later, and it was time to head in. That was our last trip to a reservoir, as it came just in time before a second national lockdown in England. Although the reservoirs are now shut for boat fishing, we’re still allowed to fish locally thanks to the hard work of the Angling Trust campaigning for angling to continue. Dad and I have already had a few trips lure fishing on our local rivers, which I’ll talk about next time…