Airflo Airlite V2 Fly Rod Review

Airflo Airlite v2 rod reviewThe Airflo Airlite rod series has made a return for this season and while the original rod was a three-piece, it is now a more versatile and compact four-piece model. Now called the V2 it is available in six models: a 9ft 5wt and 8wt, 9ft 6in 7wt, 10ft in 6wt, 7wt and 8wt, and prices range from £259.99 to £279.99.

On test was the 10ft 7wt, specifically designed for stillwater work and which Airflo say is a “great all-rounder”, capable of handling everything from floating lines to fast sinkers.

This new model has a well contoured, full wells cork handle, slimmer than the original, and it feels very comfortable and also lighter in the hand.

Starting off with a 7wt floater, I lifted an initial short length of line from the water that loaded the rod relatively smoothly. As I lifted longer lengths of line the casting action became even sweeter – this blank is really happy at handling medium to long head lengths.

It is a powerful rod in that it has a fast action, but at the same time is still user-friendly being smooth  and easy to cast. It has a wickedly fast tip recovery so I could generate a lot of line speed, producing tight loops and great delivery. This really pays off when you are working with multi-droppered long leaders where full turnover is all important so the flies can start fishing straight away.

I found the rod was as proficient at fishing dries and emergers with reasonably light leaders and tippets, as it was twiddling nymphs at depth.

Moving on to a range of sunk line options from sink tips to intermediates the blank handled them in a very similar fashion to the floating line. When it came to medium sinkers (Di-3) to fast sinkers (Di-7) I did feel the rod loading and flexing a little deeper but it was still very adept at working these denser lines.

When playing fish I found the rod did flex a lot deeper than I’d thought it would considering its reasonably fast action, but this really helps in protecting tippet and leader and in turning and playing the fish with a lot more feel.

There are two rod weights either side of this 7wt: the 10ft 6wt is designed for top of the water work and lighter tippets and the 8wt, which Airflo describe as “the beast”, would suit competition anglers who like to pull sunk lines.

VERDICT:

I liked the lightweight blank, the matt finish, the self-centering reel seat and most of all the rod’s performance and the way it can handle a full range of fly-lines from floaters to fast sinkers.

Article reproduced with kind permission of Trout Fisherman Magazine.

www.troutfisherman.co.uk

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Five End Of Season Stillwater Fly Fishing Tips

The days are getting shorter, mornings misty and with a chill in the evening air we are now moving into autumn with a vengeance. Such conditions can mean only one thing – we are now heading into the ‘back end’, a time on the trout fishers calendar where brilliant sport can be expected. These stillwater fly fishing tips should help you make the most of this productive time of year!

Brilliant back end bank fishing

A brilliant back end bank fishing spot – an old river channel

1. On the bank – Once water temperatures cool off, the margins become the place to concentrate on during the autumn. Natural food accumulates and terrestrial life is blown onto the water here – so bank fishing really comes into it’s own. Look for bays, points, dying weed beds, old river channels and any in-flow of running water. Grown on resident fish won’t be far away!

2. Dig out the big flies – Colder temps tend to bring out the aggression in resident fish, especially brown trout. Combine that with the abundance of coarse fish fry on our reservoirs and you can use larger flies with full confidence – booby zonkers, snakes, humongous and various fry patterns will often catch the biggest and best quality fish.

Fish large flies with confidence

Fish large flies with confidence at this time of year

3. Afternoons are best – Very early and late tend to be times to avoid when air temperatures plummet, resulting in fish sulking out of reach in deep water. That brief spell of mid afternoon warmth can trigger fly hatches and feeding activity, so concentrate your efforts for when the water is alive and the fishing at it’s peak.

4. Slime lines = good times – Intermediates fly lines are perfect for fishing at this time of year. They are so versatile and cover the top layers down to mid water comfortably. The Airflo camo clear is a great line to start with for the bank angler fishing among decaying weedbeds or looking for a stealth option. It’s a joy to cast and lovely to handle even with cold hands.

On the fast intermediate....

A brownie on the fast intermediate….

5. Brave the wind – Autumn winds can be strong and unpleasant to fish in, BUT they can also concentrate the fish within easy reach. It is well worth casting right into the teeth of the wind, or fishing a bay where the wind is blowing in and funneling terrestrial food, such as daddy long legs. In windy conditions don’t worry about distance (the fish could be just a few yards out!) try your best to get turnover. Make your leader shorter and your casting loop tighter, in order to punch your cast under the wind.

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Who’s the daddy? Fly-fishing crane flies for end-of-season trout

September is always a poignant time of the fly-fishing year. As the days grow noticeably shorter, the trout are the fattest and healthiest you’ll find them all season, but they often seem to be fixated on the very smallest and most technical food forms – like midges and pale wateries, presented totally drag-free, on gossamer-fine tippets.

Author, fisherman and environmentalist, Theo Pike discusses the exception to this rule and the secret weapon that shouldn’t be too far from your fly-box this September. It’s the daddy-long-legs. Here’s 6 top tips for landing yourself an end-of-season specimen.

crane fly

A crane fly, commonly known as the daddy long legs.
Image source: Shutterstock

Also known as crane flies (Tipulidae), these big insects will have spent the year as leatherjacket grubs, burrowing invisibly in the roots of the grasses and meadow flowers along our river banks. Now, as the air cools a little and turns humid after the long hot summer, they start to emerge and search for mates, to start their mostly-hidden life-cycle all over again.

For reasons best known to expert entomologists, some years are more prolific than others. Yet it’s no exaggeration to say that even in a sparse year, this can be the daddy of all seasonal hatches – at least as significant as the grannom or mayfly for the observant fly-fisher.

With cigar-shaped bodies, rambling legs that stick out in all directions, and wings that don’t seem nearly big enough to keep them airborne, daddy-long-legs look like Heath Robinson contraptions that fly badly, when they fly at all. The slightest puff of wind is usually enough to dump a few of them onto the nearest body of water, where they’ll struggle haplessly in the surface film, attracting attention from fish for yards around.

There’s no delicate sipping when these big mouthfuls are splashing down: trout and chub in particular will hit drowning daddies with real intent, sometimes even leaping out of the water, flattening them with a belly-flop, and circling back again to mop up the doomed insects.

If you think this sounds like some of the least technical fishing of the year, you may be right. But there are still a few useful things to remember if you really want to make the most of the early-autumn daddy-long-legs bonanza…

1 – Beef up your tackle

Daddy-feeding fish don’t tend to be too tippet shy, and the takes can be vicious, so this isn’t the time to take your tippet diameter much below 5lbs. Stiffer monofilament will help you avoid corkscrewed tippet when you’re turning over big, air-resistant flies into a headwind, and you may find a slightly heavier rod helpful, too.

2 – Match the hatch

daddy flies

Daddy long legs flies
Image source: Fishtec

Entomologists say there are around 300 species of crane flies in the UK, and while it’s hardly worth lugging around enough flies to match all of these, there are definitely times when the fish will respond better to one pattern than another. Carry a good selection wherever you’re fishing at this time of year, and stay alert for opportunities to try the nearest possible imitation.

3 – Chop and change

box of daddy long legs lures

A selection box of lures for variety
Featured product: Fulling Mill Daddies at Fishtec

Most of us aren’t lucky enough to be able to fish when the weather is perfect, so having a tactical selection of patterns in your box will let you pick the best option for the conditions you’re facing. For example, a fully-hackled fly flutters lightly over a wave, while choosing a low-riding pattern, with hackles clipped off the underside, will help your imitation sit enticingly low in a flat calm.

4 – Give it a twitch

After ditching in the drink, most daddies will fuss and struggle as though they’re trying to signal for help. Follow their lead by adding a little twitch to your presentation now and again, instead of focusing on a perfect dead drift, or just letting the fly float static. If the fish you’re targeting hasn’t been convinced so far, this may help to seal the deal.

5 – Go trophy hunting

The crane fly fall will often get the biggest fish in the river looking up for the first time since the mayfly hatch, so now’s your opportunity to target the really big beasts. Don’t be afraid to use the heft of these flies (and of course your heavier tippet) to fire them into places you’d normally assume are far too tight. After all, this is where the trophy trout, chub and even carp will be lurking.

6 – Don’t strike too soon

As mentioned above, some predators will deliberately swamp a struggling daddy, then come back and take it confidently under the surface. If you don’t feel the fish, try to ignore the impulse to pick up for another cast – just leave your fly in place. It sounds counterintuitive, but it often works.

large trout

September is the ideal time to land a large trophy trout
Image source: Shutterstock

Like Kieron in this article on how to fish daddy-long-legs, I do tie most of my own flies, but I tend to make an exception for daddy-long-legs and mayflies.

These are two hatches when having a flexible choice of different patterns is more important than having a whole row of clones in your fly-box, and it’s fun to let the designers show their paces with all the latest innovations. Grab yourself a generous handful of daddies from your favourite supplier – Fishtec stocks Fulling Mill, Iain Barr and Caledonia – and get out there to make the most of this end-of-season bonanza!

author profile

Theo Pike is a freelance environmental, fishing and marketing writer. He’s also Chair of Trustees of the South East, and founding editor of urbantrout.net, a website and eco-brand dedicated to the urban fly fishing and river restoration movements. His first book, Trout in Dirty Places, was published by Merlin Unwin Books in 2012, and his new Pocket Guide to Balsam Bashing appeared in 2014.

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Autumn’s Test By Rene’ Harrop

It is not difficult to understand why some fly fishermen choose to avoid rivers like the Henry’s Fork after the month of August.

With low, clear water and currents complicated by aquatic vegetation near the surface, approaching and fooling a big trout with a dry fly is never more daunting than at summer’s end.

Passing The Test

Passing The Test

As the days become shorter and cooler fishing a fly larger than size eighteen and a tippet stronger than 6X becomes a luxury, and only the most precise presentation has any chance of yielding a positive result.

Adding to the difficulty of achieving complete success are extra wary trout that seem to understand that powering into a heavy weed bed will all but guarantee quick redemption from the mistake of accepting a fraudulent fly. Yet despite these many obstacles, this is the time I enjoy most.

Extraction

Extraction – a bend in the fly fishing rod

In fly fishing, like many other of life’s undertakings, the significance of any accomplishment is measured by the difficulty presented by the objective, and we are only tested by that which is difficult.

Prevailing in an unforgiving situation is mainly dependent upon patience and concentration. Certainly, only advanced presentation skill will enable a realistic possibility that the fly will be accepted, but I will never be more prepared than in September.

Working A Weed Bed

Working A Weed Bed

Precision honed by more than one hundred days on the water during the preceding months permits a sense that I can make the cast that will place the fly where it needs to be in most conditions, but being defeated by a trout is something that I accept, however grudgingly.

While the challenge seems great with the arrival of autumn hatches that are mostly very small it will only intensify in the days remaining before winter’s arrival, but I will treasure every one.

Making The Grade

Making the grade with Airflo fishing tackle

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Dave Lane On Particles

Although boilies are my main bait of choice I still like to supplement them, at the right time of year, with particles.

Hemp and Tigers are, have always been, and will remain to be, a fantastic combination that carp will readily eat in almost all situations. On waters where I may be fishing for what I class as ‘wild’ fish, fish that have seen little in the way of either, pressure, or bait, then hemp and tigers will play quite heavily in my approach. I find that a tiger nut is instantly acceptable to fish that are more used to feeding on natural food items.

Particles by the bucket load at the right time of year

Particles by the bucket load at the right time of year

I am not quite sure why Tigers are such a good bait as, to us at least, they seem to have very little smell or obvious attraction. I do know that they contain a lot of natural sugar that leeches out in the water and, maybe, this is what the carp find so attractive.

Contrary to popular belief, I also find that other species like Tigers as well, which goes against the thought of process of using them to deter ‘nuisance’ fish. Strangely though, bream seem to like them far more than tench do, on some lakes I have fished I have been plagued by bream on tigers. At Sonning for example, it was impossible to fish with them and even a single tiger hurled out into the wide expanse of the main lake would get snaffled in no time at all by a big old slab.

Roach and chub also seem very partial to the odd ‘Growler’ and my biggest ever roach of 3lb 10oz fell to a single tiger fished on a bolt rig with a four ounce lead, not exactly purist tactics I know, and I don’t actually count it as a personal best because I certainly wasn’t targeting roach on that occasion.

More recently, I have started using hemp throughout the winter, albeit mixed in with a decent amount of boilies. In fact, my best ever winter was the one just past and I used large quantities of hemp, 18mm 15mm and 10mm boilies all mixed into a spod mix, right throughout the coldest months of the year. This was a new tactic for me and a result of constant badgering from my mate, Paul Forward, who has long sung the praises of hemp in the winter. I ended up banking around seventy fish between October and March, including two forties and a whole string of good thirties and, most of these, were caught on Hybrid boilies fished over the hemp and boilie spod mix, so who says you cannot teach an old dog new tricks?

As for clearing spots, yes particles such as hemp or pigeon conditioner can encourage the carp to scour back the bottom, uprooting weed and creating clear areas but, to be honest, so can a decent supply of boilies. Carp will keep revisiting a spot long after the bait has all gone and they are more than happy to scour around for whatever else may be there, particularly if it is an area where they regularly get fed. I do find however, a spot that is ‘too’ clear becomes harder to fish. The carp will still visit a glowing yellow patch of ground but presentation becomes more of an issue and the fish seem to ‘get away with it’ a lot more regularly. I suppose this sort of leads into the last part of the question, how long do I leave a pre-baited area before fishing it.

Obviously, from what I have already said, I do think there is such a thing as ‘too long’ I do not want it to be stripped back to bedrock before I reap the rewards of my hard work. In reality, it’s just never going to get that far though, as I am terribly impatient and I tend to change my mind so often about what areas and which approach is best that I regularly ditch plans as fast as I hatch them.

My most recent fifty plus from a baited spot of particles and the boilies

My most recent fifty plus from a baited spot of particles and the boilies

Pre-baiting is a strange one really, if the fish are feeding on the bait you are introducing then why not jump straight in and catch them. If you are already catching in other parts of the lake, do you think there is enough feeding activity to guarantee they are feeding on your pre-baited area as well and, most importantly, are you catching less because of it?

If you are pre-baiting then you must assume it is getting eaten, if not then why chuck a load more, fresh bait, on top of bait that is still sitting there from the previous day, or week? If the carp are indeed eating all your free grub then the area is already prime for exploiting, or at least that’s the way I look at it.

The perfect scenario for me is to pre-bait a lake that I am not fishing at the time, one that is close enough to either home, or the lake I am fishing, and one that is not really getting fished by others. This would be ideal as I could happily plan the downfall of the fish while busying myself catching carp elsewhere but, even then, I would probably not give it too many applications before I just had to find out if it was working, impatient should be my middle name!

One perfect way to find out what is happening below the surface on your areas, without actually committing to fish them, is by using a FishSpy camera float to regularly check the area, this will give you a real time view of what bait is left and save you valuable time and effort with a rod and line.

I do understand the power of bait, and I also know that boilies will create more of an ongoing situation than particles ever could. I do not think you could ever condition the fish into seeking out a particular bean, seed or pulse in preference to all other foods but, I know, with the correct application you can educate a carp into eating a certain type of boilie far more readily than another, different type. I have done this on lakes in the past and, by careful and prolonged pre-baiting myself and my friends, have completely dominated waters for a considerable amount of time.

So, I think there is a place for both boilie and particle in most fishing situations and it all depends, for me at least, what I am trying to achieve; a long term result, a quick clearing off of a few spots or a big hit on one session when everything is right for it.

If you enjoyed this article, why not check out Dave Lane’s new book? Titled Fine Lines, Dave’s third publication delves deeply into the mysterious, weird and wonderful big carp scene. For more details click here.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Fishing Piers, Harbours and Breakwaters

Offering easy access to deeper water, piers and other man-made structures provide great fishing for beginners and experts alike. Dominic Garnett shares his top tips for getting the best from these venues.

Pier_Fishing_001

Andy Mytton and Paulina Garnett fishing tight to the pier’s structure.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

Like many other sea anglers, I have a soft spot for piers and other structures. It was at a local harbour many years ago, in fact, that I really caught the sea fishing bug. Having had precious little luck from local beaches, the vantage point of the sea wall proved a revelation. No longer was I hampered by my limited casting skill and basic tackle; a ragworm lowered close-in led to rod-rattling bites and species I had never caught before. It was a huge confidence boost and without this breakthrough, I may well have abandoned sea fishing altogether and stuck to fresh water.

Since those early days, I have fished a wide range of piers, marinas and sea walls. I love the variety they offer. I also love being able to fish close in, because with the shelter and structure provided you can often ditch the broom handle rods and get maximum sport with much lighter tackle. In short, these venues offer big advantages and something to catch all year round.

Piers, promenades and other manmade hotspots

Pier_Fishing_002

Wrasse love structure and cover, and are one of several species you can find around most piers and harbours.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

While my main focus will be piers and breakwaters, I should start by saying that the same rules apply for various spots on the coast. Sea walls, harbours and any marks that offer depth and shelter are ideal. Most of these venues offer free fishing, although some piers require a modest day ticket fee.

You can expect to catch a variety of fish. The summer months are busiest, as mackerel, bass, pollack and other species come close in to hunt fry and sand eels. Winter months bring shoals of whiting, pout and sometimes codling. But there are also species you’ll find more or less all year round, such as wrasse and various rock fish (see Fishtec’s Guide to UK Sea Species for a general guide to catches by season).

Besides online resources, the local tackle shop is probably the best place to pick up advice. However, there’s no substitute for just heading out to test different methods and talking to locals. As these venues tend to be public, the locals may well have friendly advice and be willing to share their ‘insider’ knowledge.

Typical tackle for piers and structure fishing

Pier_Fishing_003

With no need to cast miles, light tackle is ideal for catching smaller fish from man-made venues.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

The gear used to fish man-made venues can vary from the toughest beachcaster to ultralight lure fishing tackle. As there’s little need to thump a lead out to the horizon, it’s usually possible to use lighter tackle than usual.

Starting with basic tackle for traditional methods, you can scale down the typical beachcaster for a shorter pier rod or even a carp rod (Leeda produce some ideal affordable rods, including a sea fishing pier model, for under £30). This will suffice for bottom or float fishing. If the sea is rough or the bottom is snaggy, you might err on the side of caution and start with 10-15lb line.

For much of the time though, lighter tackle will suffice and I often use a lure fishing rod. Dropshot or LRF tackle is an absolute delight for mini species (typically with 5-6lb braided mainline and a 4lb fluorocarbon trace), while a medium lure rod, typically coupled with 10lb mainline, will handle larger lures, longer casts and harder fighting fish.

On the subject of larger fish, you would also be well advised to include a dropnet or long handled landing net (Daiwa make an LRF net handle that extends to 5.9m), if you are to safely land that three-pound wrasse or surprise bass!

Common tactics and catches

Pier_Fishing_004

Mackerel are superb fun on light tackle; and much less wasteful than using feathers.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

For many shore anglers, the main event each summer is mackerel – the perfect beginner’s fish. Beachcaster and feathers work a treat, but I find it crude and quite wasteful. After all, how many of us really need to take more than half a dozen mackerel home? Much more fun is a light spinning rod, with a float rig or spoon or metal lure such as the classic Dexter Wedge. These fish are a revelation on light tackle. Try different depths until you find the level of the fish.

Pollack and bass can also be caught from piers, which is another great reason to pack a spinning rod. In fact, I often use a 9-10ft rod in the 10-40g bracket for either lure or float fishing. The sliding float is a classic method (click here for rig diagrams from britishseafishing.co.uk), with a strip of fish for mackerel and garfish, or perhaps a ragworm section or live prawn for wrasse, bass and other species.

I tend to fish standard beach gear and leger tackle less from piers and structures, but this depends on the location. If there are lots of snags, losses can be high. Nor is it always necessary to use big leads and hooks- and you will get far more bites on light tackle. In fact, when I do leger I find smaller hooks and lighter traces much more productive. I would only step up my traces above 10lbs if I was targeting larger bass, wrasse or conger.

Perhaps the most common mistake I see, is the use of crude tackle. The brutal truth is that sea fish are not as big as they once were and you will get far more bites on lighter lines and hook sizes from 1 to 8 (carp hooks are excellent) than you will on old fashioned shore rigs and hooks of 1/0 or bigger (although I would make an exception for large baits and night fishing for the big stuff).

Pier_Fishing_005

Scale right down and there are lots of mini-critters to provide fun on your typical dropshot or light lure gear
Image: Fishing with the General

Last on the list, but often my first choice method, LRF (Light Rock Fishing) tackle is a joy to use for all manner of smaller species. Pack plenty of smaller worm style lures and little shads and you might catch anything from pollack, to wrasse, pout and sea scorpions.

Tides and locations

Pier_Fishing_006

Early and late sessions can be best of all, especially if you hope to catch fish such as bass and other low light feeders.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

Walk along most piers and you will find two typical habits: anglers tend to fish at high tide and head straight for the end of the pier. There is nothing wrong with this, but you will catch along most parts of these structures so there’s no need to fight for a space at the end.

A rising tide is a good time to fish as the rising water brings in bait fish, followed closely by predators. The top of the tide is ideal for mackerel, garfish and other species; look out for shoals of prey and fleeing fish. If high water falls at dawn or dusk, even better.

Besides the fish we could class as “invaders”, which may only be present to feed for a spell, there are also many “residents” that live around the structure at all states of tide. As the tide drops you can still catch these fish, although you might need to scale your gear down.

The best spot is often right under your feet, tight to the structure, whether that means the legs of the pier, or the rocky bottom of a sea wall. In fact, it often amazes me how far anglers will cast when there are so many fish that lie closer in. Fry, crabs, shrimps and other prey all love the sanctuary of cover, so why not cast where the fish expect to find dinner?

That said, you will also find patches of sand and broken ground around manmade structures that are worth casting to. Clean sand may well provide habitat for flounders, plaice and other species less keen on rocky ground.

Further tips for piers and manmade structures

  • You will only realise the full potential of any venue by fishing at different times and states of tide. Be bold and try different rigs and conditions.
  • On busier venues, do watch out for others’ lines and respect fellow anglers. If you’re courteous, you will quite often pick up tips and advice from locals.
  • For some species, night fishing is superior to daytime hours. This is certainly true for fish like bass, dogfish and conger.
  • Mackerel and garfish are often easy to catch if they are present, but depth is crucial. Experiment until you hit them; typically mackerel will be at ten to fifteen feet, garfish a little shallower.
  • We’ve said nothing of mullet so far, but these are another worthy quarry- and a nice way to enjoy using your coarse fishing tackle at sea.
  • Jetties and the sides of boats are also very much worth targeting, but do be considerate and mindful of other water users.
  • Light tackle is ideal to get kids and beginners catching, right under their feet. Avoid crude tackle though, and scale down to hooks from size 4-10. Barbless patterns are much kinder to the fish, and easier to remove if wolfed down. Drop shotting with a section of worm or Isome can be especially deadly.

Five venues to try in the South & South West

Pier_Fishing_007

Brixham Breakwater
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

While I couldn’t hope to cover the huge number of piers and sea defences across the UK, here are five of my favourites across the south and south west:

Swanage Pier

A classic Victorian pier with lots to explore for a £4 day ticket (£1 for kids). Try right amongst the legs for wrasse and mini species, or cast out a float or lures for mackerel.

Weymouth Stone Pier

Weymouth is packed with manmade features, but the pier is especially productive. A great summer spot for mackerel and garfish.

Brixham Breakwater

You have both an outer and inner side to target on this lengthy sea wall. The outer side is perfect for mackerel and pollack; the sheltered inner has many small wrasse and the chance of a conger at night.

Mountbatten Breakwater, Plymouth

Get right among the rocks and this is a wonderful mark for LRF tackle, with the likes of sea scorpions, wrasse and even the odd topknot.

Brighton Marina

A big, imposing structure with plenty of species to go at. For youngsters and beginners, there are plenty of pout and smaller fish right under the walls. Bass are much scarcer, but try a large bait at night for the chance of a big one.

Catch more from our blogger…

Based in Devon, Dom Garnett is an author and regular blogger and columnist. You can read his “Far Bank” column every week in the Angling Times, while his website www.dgfishing.co.uk has his books and regular blog, which features sea, coarse and fly fishing.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Eel Fishing

How would you like to try your hand at angling for one of the world’s most mysterious fish? You’ll have to stay up late to bag an eel, but it’ll be well worth the effort because they’re ferocious fighters.

Tempted? Read on as the author of The Eel Angler, Barry McConnell gives the lowdown on this most slippery of customers.

My largest UK eel to date at 9lbs 2oz
Image courtesy of Barry McConnell

Perhaps it’s because they resemble a snake as much as a fish, that so few anglers target eels. But wriggly and slimy though they are, they’re also a fascinating creature about which we still know relatively little.

Scientists are almost certain the European eel breeds over 4,000 miles away in the Sargasso Sea – although to this day, nobody has ever actually witnessed them spawning. The tiny elvers drift to the UK on the ocean currents and once here, follow flowing water upstream, taking them inland. They venture up streams, rivers, canals, and ditches exploring every tiny rivulet as they strive to populate our fisheries. Eels even find their way into stillwaters by wriggling through trickling overflows.

A 6lb 12oz eel
Image courtesy of Barry McConnell

The eel is a wild fish that manages its own stocks, populating every type of water including gravel pits, reservoirs, meres, ponds, and glacial lochs. No other species of fish inhabits such a diverse range of habitats making eel fishing an exploration or an adventure into the unknown. While the new age of carp angling has trended towards managed, stocked fisheries which name the biggest fish and tell anglers how many 20s, 30s they can catch, eel fishing is the exact opposite. There is rarely any information available, and often the local anglers don’t even know if there are any eels around or not.

Into the Unknown

My first ever 3lb eel
Image courtesy of Barry McConnell

From vast, 200ft deep, windswept glacial lochs to shallow, muddy, little farm ponds choked with weed, the excitement of the unknown inspires me to fish a wide variety of venues in search of eels. I started on easier waters with a high population of eels and it took me two years to break the 3lb barrier. By that time I had the eel fishing bug, a.k.a. slime fever. My biggest eel in the UK is 9lbs 2ozs.

If you’re a beginner, it’s best to start on waters that are known to hold eels. Here it will be possible to catch a few and learn as you progress. Very big eels are extremely rare and pursuing them may involve targeting waters with no history of any eels ever being caught. Specimen eel angling is only for the select few who pursue this branch of the sport with a level of dedication that borders on obsession. But while not for amateurs, you never know, perhaps (like me) you’ll get the bug…

Identifying eels

4lbs 7ozs
Image courtesy of Barry McConnell

The UK rod and line record for the European Eel is 11lb 2oz, but most eels are less than 3lb in weight. I was happy catching two pounders when I started. The eel is slow growing and takes ten years to grow to 1lb in weight. Eels of 4lb and upwards are regarded as specimens and may be 40 years old. A 3lb eel may be 36 inches long and eels over 9lb can be over 45 inches long with a girth like a drain pipe. Young eels are generally an olive-green colour and have small eyes. Larger, mature specimens have a purple-pink-silver hue. As the eel reaches its time to migrate back to the Sargasso Sea its pigmentation turns to a silvery sheen and the eyes grow large like saucers. These are known as silver eels.

There have been problems with a decline in the eel population over the last 20 years. Because of this, in England and Wales, the European Eel is now a protected species and it is no longer legal to take or to kill one. All fish must be returned to the water alive. Scotland has banned fishing for them altogether and so too have parts of Ireland.

Feeding habits and baits

Upon populating a water, eels have the unique ability to develop different head shapes according to the type of food available. If there are lots of invertebrates present, the eels develop narrow heads to enable them to feed on tiny items. If there are lots of fish and fry present, the eels develop wider heads suited to preying on fish. Both types of eels may be present in the same water.

The common lobworm is an effective bait for eels
Image: Shutterstock

Lobworm is the most popular eel bait, and broken lobs (cut one lobworm into six or seven short pieces and put on the hook) is the most effective. Dendrobaena and other types of redworms are also a good bait for eels; they are easier to get hold of than lobs and will keep better in warm weather. Small, 3-5-inch-long fish are a very good bait. They can be used live, dead or cut up into sections. My preference is a dead one, freshly killed with its head snipped off to release more scent trail into the water. The eel has an incredible sense of smell and will scent out the bait.

Eels will feed on a wide variety of food and other baits like luncheon meat, cheese and squid. Mussels and prawns work well too. I find that the pre-cooked frozen ones are best as they are firmer than uncooked ones which helps them stay on the hook. Sometimes they can be just as effective as the old favourites – worms and dead-baits. Many eel anglers bait the swim with dead maggots, but I have been successful without any baiting-up.

Eel fishing tackle

The joy of fishing for eel is that it is a powerful fighter. It will swim backwards and pull strongly against the rod in a tug of war. A strong rod is necessary to move a big eel and specimen hunters prefer 2 ½ and 3lb rods. It is possible to land eels on lighter rods and so don’t despair if you only have a 1.5lb rod. That will do for starters.

Lines of 10lb to 15lb are matched to the job and a wire trace is necessary for big eels and wide-mouthed eels as their teeth will slash through softer hook-length materials. The eel’s eye is very close to its lip and because of this, hooks size 6 is the best size. Any bigger and the gape of the hook is so wide that the point can penetrate the eels eye and cause damage. Any smaller and you risk pulling out of larger, hard-fighting fish.

A size 6 hook is the perfect middle ground for safe eel fishing
Image: Shutterstock

Barbless hooks are used with fish baits and a piece of elastic band can be added to keep the bait on the hook. With worms I prefer a micro-barb hook because having crammed a barbless hook full of worms, they keep wriggling off as I try to put a piece of elastic band on! A large landing net is necessary as eels are long fish. To land an eel with a smaller net you have to get its tail into the net first the eel will back into the net. This can be difficult but is achievable with a bit of practice.

Bottom bait rigs

A basic free-running ledger rig
Image courtesy of Barry McConnell

Simple free-running ledger rigs are standard when fishing the bait on the bottom for eels.

On loosely presented set ups, eels have a habit of backing up a few inches and swallowing the bait without the take registering. To deter this, and to reduce the chance of a deep hooking, it’s best to keep the hook length short and the line tight to register each movement. An instant strike will also reduce the chance of eels swallowing the bait. Even after taking all these precautions, some eels will still be deep-hooked when using a basic free-running ledger rig.

The basic ledger rig converted to a semi-bolt rig
Image courtesy of Barry McConnell

Further steps to reduce deep-hooking include the semi-bolt rig. This is a basic link ledger with an extra bead and a stop knot added. The principle is that the eel has a short distance of free-running, low-resistance until the stop-knot butts up to the bead, hopefully pricking the hook into the fish before it has swallowed the bait. It is fairly successful but not 100%. Other anti- deep -hooking systems currently being field tested by National Anguilla Club members include the use of circle hooks, semi-resistance rigs, and of T-bars or gobstoppers fitted to the trace just above the hook, to preventing the eel gorging the bait.

Mid-water rigs

The Dyson Rig for fishing in mid-water
Image courtesy of Barry McConnell

Another popular and very effective method is to present the bait in mid-water using an off-bottom rig. The Dyson rig is preferred by most eel anglers. This resistance-free and adjustable rig presents the bait above the lake bed, and can present it abovevoiding weed growing on the bottom, it is also resistance-free and adjustable. A rotten bottom is essential with this rig, so that if the lead gets stuck, the weaker line will break and the rig can be retrieved.

Eels tend to shy away from resistance and may eject the bait if things don’t feel right, therefore free-running rigs, along with lightweight, resistance-free indicators are preferred. A simple lightweight bobbin hanging on the line between reel and butt ring will suffice, or better than that is the purpose-built, resistance-free, adjustable indicator, The Rollover Indicator, as used by most of the leading eel anglers today. Available from www.zandavan.co.uk where a video can be viewed showing how it works.

Handling and unhooking eels

A 5lb eel
Image courtesy of Barry McConnell

The eel should be handled gently so as not to stress the fish. An unhooking mat and damp hands are the order of the day. Calmly lay the eel on the mat; treat it gently so it stays calm and is easier to unhook. If an eel has swallowed the bait, do not shove a disgorger or forceps down its throat. The throat is obviously narrow in such a thin fish and the eel has all its vital organs and main arteries at the back of its throat where any poking around may injure the fish which may then bleed to death. The best option is to cut through the trace, leaving the barbless hook in the eel which will usually be able to work it loose and spit it out.
The eel is largely a creature of the night and though you can also catch one in the day-time, it is best to stay on into the hours of darkness to get the better sport, to get the ‘feel of the night’, and to enter the world of the true eel angler. Those of you that get the eel angling bug may care to join the National Anguilla Club where you can meet like-minded eel angling fanatics who strive to improve eel angling techniques and conserve the eel.

Further reading: The Eel Angler

The Eel Angler by Barry McConnell

If you want to read more on this subject I have written a book The Eel Angler, published in 2012. It tells the story of my eel angling learning curve, the progression from beginner to specialist. It’s a big book and includes chapters on Australia and New Zealand where eels over 20lb were landed. It is a full-colour book with lots of photos and has received some top reviews. The last few are still available from www.zandavan.co.uk. Also available is my latest book, Channel Zander, published in 2017.

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Be Different – Dave Lane

I always like to say that, if you do the same as the most successful angler on a lake then, possibly, you will end up catching as much as him, but what if you want to do better?

So, let’s look at some specific examples of how this pan’s out in real life shall we.

Monks Pit, I joined the lake with one fish in mind, a common in the mid forty pound bracket, this would constitute my PB common and first ever UK forty plus common. As with most biggies there was already a set of ‘rules’ in place that dictated where and when you would catch her.

I cannot remember all of them but I know that it was nearly always on the East bank, never in winter and definitely not on a zig.

I eventually landed that magnificent common at forty six pounds on the 7th February, from the West bank and yes, you guessed it, on a zig. I also hooked it from a known distance swim, twenty yards from the bank. So what made me break all the rules surrounding that fish, I was simply fishing where I had seen fish and using the method that I thought was right on the day and the biggun just simply came along.

Wrong bait, wrong spot and wrong time of year

Wrong bait, wrong spot and wrong time of year

I have missed out in the past by adhering to the legends surrounding a certain fish, no lesson was learnt more succinctly than, a few years later, when I was targeting my first UK fifty pound plus common, at Black Swan Lake.

I had a swim on there in which I do not recall ever blanking, it was a long range gap between two islands and I knew the spots like the back of my hand, as such it was one of my favourite swims and I fished it whenever possible.

The big common however, he apparently never got caught anywhere else except for a large bay at the extreme Southern end of the pit. Every capture of this carp had been from there and, although never fifty pounds before, I knew that he would be over that weight during the autumn and winter that year.

I decided, using the information available, to target that one area for the entire winter, starting my campaign in late September.

On my only my second trip in the bay, my long time angling mate Paul Forward decided to set up in the Gap Swim, he was just fishing for fish and that was as good a spot as any; I think you can see where this is headed!

In the evening he invited me round for a barbeque and a couple of beers and later, just as I was leaving to walk back to my swim, he had a bite in the gap. After a short tussle a great big common rolled into his net, first time over fifty pounds, as expected, but not from the bay, from my favourite swim on the lake. I had missed out by fully believing the legend and fishing where others had told me I had the most chance rather than where I most fancied.

So, what of the Burghfield common then, it was accepted that he normally got caught in one of the small bays rather than the open water but, was that because he lived there, fed there, or was fished for the most in there and how does the catch rate equate to rod hours spent waiting?

It was also widely accepted that he did not feed with the other fish, always on his own or with a very small, select band of friends which made him a very tricky target indeed.

Eventually I caught him by doing exactly the opposite. He was the second of a six fish catch from the open, deeper, water and fell to my standard approach of baiting as heavily as the situation seemed to warrant.

I was also catching tench and bream from the same area so I knew that I could use a substantial amount of bait, and it worked.

The Burghfield common, not such a solo feeder after all.

The Burghfield common, not such a solo feeder after all.

That’s the beauty of carp angling; there are no hard and fast rules, only guidelines that we, the anglers, assume to be correct.

You cannot have too much information of course, not when you are tracking a single fish but, as with everything in fishing, there is a time to follow it and a time to follow your gut instinct and only time will tell which one proves to be right.

If you enjoyed this article, why not check out Dave Lane’s new book? Titled Fine Lines, Dave’s third publication delves deeply into the mysterious, weird and wonderful big carp scene. For more details click here.

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A Beginners Guide to Bream Fishing

Familiar right across the UK, the common bream is a net-filling catch for match, pleasure and specimen anglers alike. Here, Dom Garnett provides handy tips and advice on how to catch them.

Abramis brama, or the common bream
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

Of all the coarse species you might find in your local waters, bream are perhaps the most common “net-sized” fish of all. They bite well and grow to a good average size; and while they have a reputation as weak fighters, they are a different prospect on light tackle.

There are, of course, different sorts of bream, but for our purposes we are dealing with Abramis brama, the common or bronze bream of freshwater. This is occasionally confused with the silver bream, which rarely grows much more than a pound and looks rather like a young common bream or “skimmer”. However, the silver bream is less widespread, has darker fins, and a proportionally larger eye.

A really ancient-looking canal bream, just an ounce under seven pounds
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

I guess you could say the bream is a bit of a love or hate fish. They’re lazy, lolloping things. They seem to live half their lives in slow motion, and enjoy stealing baits intended for carp. But I have always appreciated them. As a kid, they swallowed up whole summer evenings, and a good one was a fish to be prized. Catching a really big one is a great challenge – and those over ten pounds take on a whole new majesty.

The habits of bream

Common bream are fish with very specific habits – useful to help us find and target them. Firstly, they are bottom dwelling fish- as you can see from their body shape and downturned mouths. They are also a fish that form shoals of anything up to a hundred or more strong, meaning that they can be caught in great numbers. Where you find one you may well find many, and as even modest adult bream weigh three to five pounds, there could be a large catch on the cards.

Most of the time the bream is a fish of deep, slow water. On rivers, you can expect them in slacks and gentle currents with good depth. On stillwaters such as lakes and reservoirs you will often find them further out from the bank, in the deepest water. They’ll feed over both silt and gravel, where they’ll grub for bloodworms, snails and other natural food.

Dour, overcast conditions tend to provide good bream fishing
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

Bream are fish that patrol regular feeding routes in order to graze. Not that they eat all the time; dour, overcast days tend to be most productive. You may even see them rolling at the surface late in the day, and night fishing is also a good plan for the really big ones. The trick is finding where and when they feed, because once you do they can be easy to catch in numbers.

On more open waters, another good tip is follow the wind. Breezy conditions are ideal for bringing them onto the feed. On large lakes you will often get a good catch by fishing with the wind in your face – a deep bay with the wind blowing into it is the ideal spot to catch bream.

Tactics and tackle

Since they don’t fight especially hard, the angler who targets bream will want to use sensibly light tackle to get a decent bend in the rod. Various tactics work.

You could use pole or waggler tackle where distances aren’t too great, but the most common method for bream is probably the swimfeeder. A large open-end groundbait feeder or method feeder is ideal. A quivertip makes ideal bite detection, although specimen tactics with two or three rods can also be employed if the fish are large and there’s a long wait between bites.

Open-end groundbait feeders are ideal when targeting bream
Image: Shutterstock

Just occasionally, other tactics work too. Clear summer rivers can make for exciting stalking tactics. It’s lovely watching them feed, and simple baits like corn and bread are easily spotted on the bottom as you watch the fish home in.

Slightly stranger tactics have also been known to work. I’ve had accidental bream on lures, as well as some (by design) using sinking flies! Again, rivers are the best place to try this, where the bream tend to be more keen-sighted and active.

Bream can be finicky on occasion, but you’ll get plenty of bites on sensibly light tackle. Typically, hook sizes from 10-14 are used, although you could go a bit larger for the biggest specimens, or finer for skimmers. Main lines are typically 5-10 pounds, with hook lengths from 4-8lbs as a rough guide. As I’ve said, bream are not incredibly strong or line shy and your main reason for fishing heavier could be the risk of hooking a big tench or carp.

Baiting for bream

Bream don’t tend to be super fussy about what they eat and lots of baits will work. But you do need to feed plenty if you are to catch a good net of fish. Bream can eat a lot; and if you imagine that even a modest shoal of bream could be a dozen strong and average four or five pounds, you need plenty of food to keep their interest for any length of time.

Groundbait is a must. You can bulk this out with plain brown crumb to stop things getting expensive, but several kilos may be required for a serious session, and prebaiting is also an excellent idea.

You should try to include a variety particle baits in your mix, too. Frozen sweetcorn, or bulk items like buckwheat and rice are nice and cheap, should you want to bait up for a really big catch. If you’re settling in for a day session, you can use less feed. A couple of kilos of groundbait would still be a good idea, along with three to four pints of free offerings to get them used to your hookbait.

Hook baits for bream are varied, but don’t feel you need expensive or special kinds. Sweetcorn is excellent and avoids tiny fish. Maggots are good too – and for bream, dead maggots are often better than live. Four or five on a size 10 hook is a cracking bait. Worms are also excellent, especially redworms and you can use two or even three, broken and tipped with a caster. I almost always add chopped worms to my groundbait too, because they attract bream like nothing else.

Worm and caster is a great bream bait
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

Aside from these, several alternatives are also worth having. Bread works brilliantly in clear water or anywhere you might be lucky enough to stalk the fish. Pellets and boilies are also now part of the bream fishing scene – and anywhere that sees lots of these baits introduced for carp is likely to produce good bream on them too. Double 10mm boilies have worked very well for me, as have cocktails such as a boilie tipped with a worm.

Patience and preparation

Bream fishing is often a waiting game. If the fish are around and hungry, sport can be hectic. But until they move in, you must wait. It is usually best to bait up accurately first and then fish over the top, rather than feed on top of the fish.

They can take a while to arrive, but it’s rare to catch just one bream when they do
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

Prebaiting is often a good idea too, and accounts for some of the really huge bream nets of a hundred pounds and over. Go for cheap feeds, be positive and accurate, and you could have a truly memorable session on your hands.

Once bream are in your swim, you will often get line bites. These can be a funny sideways movement on the float, or a sudden bulge and then drop back on the feeder. With practice, you can spot most of these and wait for a true bite. Usually deliberate and unmistakable, you will see the float plod under decisively, or the quiver tip wrap right round. With specimen gear, the bobbins will lift and hold – although you may also get repetitive little lifts or ‘funny business’ if a fish tries to rid itself of the hook rather than charging off. If in doubt, lift and feel for the fish.

The joys of bream

It’s fair to say that not everyone loves bream. On heavy tackle, they don’t do a lot. But on a light rod, or in a river current, they put a nice bend in your gear and are lovely to catch.

Other things about bream are less appealing. They are one of the slimiest fish going and will really skank up your nets! This slime can also clog up your hook length, so do clear it off after each catch.

Bream are quite docile on the bank, but deserve respect like any other fish. Do treat them to a well dampened unhooking mat if you don’t want to find out about their legendary sliminess, and if you are retaining them in a keepnet, pick a large model and stake it out fully. They can suffer in hot weather too, so do be mindful of how long you retain them.

A fine double figure bream. These can be old, precious fish so treat with care
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett

The size of a true “specimen” bream really varies. For those fishing large pits and reservoirs a double figure fish is the challenge, and these are amazing looking creatures. Across many of our rivers and smaller waters though, a six-pounder is a good fish, and one of seven or eight could be a really ancient specimen, so don’t be blinkered into thinking that only a “double” is a big bream – it depends on the venue.

Wherever you find bream though, enjoy them because they are one of our classic coarse fish. And while they’re not as fashionable as carp, they will give you some great sport on lighter tackle. Happy bream fishing!

More from our blogger…

Regular Fishtec blogger Dominic Garnett is also an Angling Times weekly columnist and author of several books including Canal Fishing: A Practical Guide and his most recent book of angling tales Crooked Lines. You can find more of his words and photography, along with signed editions and fishing gifts at www.dgfishing.co.uk.

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Cultural Exchange By Rene’ Harrop

The ability to attract visitors is a notable component in the reputation of one of the world’s premier trout streams.

Although varying in volume, the months of June through October will find that the Henry’s Fork will be occupied by far fewer residents than those from somewhere else.

Henry's Fork Treasure

Henry’s Fork Treasure

As one who calls this place home, I am constantly stimulated by new introductions or reunion with visitors whom I consider friends.

In nearly every instance I find initial commonality regardless of the distance they have traveled or the culture that separates us. In fishing the Henry’s Fork we are looking for the same thing, which is to test ourselves against the defiant trout for which this river is so well known. And remarkably, those who might seem most removed from the details of dealing with a big Henry’s Fork rainbow are those who impress me most.

Sweet Success

Sweet Success

Nearly all are considerably younger than I am but their intellectual and physical abilities serve to elevate them beyond even some of the world’s most capable fly fishers, and most come from foreign continents that lay thousands of miles from Idaho.

With passion that matches my own combining with reverence for what the Henry’s Fork experience represents, these adventurous emissaries from afar become my teachers in terms of understanding the power of a special place and how far its influence can travel.

With their assistance, I have learned that the ability to think and observe is not owned by any one culture and that fly fishing experience can come from virtually anywhere.

Upstream Lie

Upstream Lie

With the awareness that true talent travels well, I fish in the company of men who apply uncommon discipline and determination that inspire even an old river rat with more than sixty years of history on the Henry’s Fork.

While sharing time on the water is most important, the value of my long distance friendships is not limited to just fishing. Through conversation I learn that we are not that different as human beings and the things we truly care about are nearly identical.

A Smile Tells It All

A Smile Tells It All

And in a time when it is most needed, such international harmony and good will paints a better picture for the future of our planet.

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