Festive fish feasts

In Britain this Christmas, between us we will eat around ten million turkeys. In the USA, over Thanksgiving, the yanks consume 60 million birds.

If the thought of slaughter on such an epic scale turn turns your stomach, here we have an alternative.

Fish. It’s an underrated festive flavour. But don’t get your carp rod in a quiver because we’re not about to suggest you plunder your local lake. For our fishy feast, we’re heading North for a delicious Nordic Christmas.



A Nordic alternative to smoked salmon
Source: Salty Squid Blog

Whether or not meat is on the menu this Christmas, a dish of gravadlax makes for a great side and is a good alternative to smoked salmon too. In the middle ages, Swedish fishermen would bury some of their catch on the beach. It’s thought the salt in the sand and the fermentation of the fish stopped it going off. These days, you won’t need sand to make gravadlax, just salt, sugar, dill and a fridge freezer.

You need: a fillet of fresh salmon, salt, castor sugar, black peppercorns, dill. Cling film.

How to make it. Mix even quantities of crushed sea salt and castor sugar. You need enough to liberally coat the whole flesh side of the fillet. Crush your black peppercorns – use as many as you like. Chop the dill.

Coat the flesh side of the fillet with the salt, sugar, pepper mixture. Cut it in half across the middle put the dill on top. Slap the two sides together like a salt sandwich. Wrap tightly in cling film. Put it in a bowl the fridge. Turn the package every 12 hours or so. Your gravadlax is ready to eat in 48 hours.

Give the fish a rinse, slice thinly. Eat.



The gelatinous texture may not be for everyone
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Lutefisk is a traditional Norse food. It’s prepared from dried white fish, or dried salt cod. First the fish is steeped in cold water for a couple of days, then it’s steeped in water mixed with lye – a powerful alkali derived from potash. This eats away at the protein in the fish, changing its consistency to something akin to jelly. After two days of this, the fish is now too caustic for consumption so it’s soaked for a further five or six days in fresh water, before being cooked briefly and served.

In particular, lutefisk made from cod is renowned for smelling utterly revolting. This combined with its gelatinous texture and the potential for it to taste of soap makes lutefisk something of an acquired taste. But for something different to serve your Christmas guests this season, you might like to give it a try. Then again, you might not.

Janssons frestelse

janssons frestelse

A hearty winter warmer
Source: Kardemummagumman

The translation of the name of this popular Swedish Christmas dish is Jansson’s temptation. Jansson was a famous Scandinavian opera singer during the early part of the 20th century – and what was he was tempted by? Sprats.

To make yourself a tasty sprat casserole, you need: potatoes, an onion, several sprat fillets (tinned are fine), cream, salt and pepper, butter, and breadcrumbs.

Chop your onion, then fry gently in butter. Chop the spuds into thin strips, put them with the onion and fry until semi-cooked. Take an oven dish. Use half the onion, potato mixture to make a layer. Season. Place a layer of sprats on top. Repeat. Cover in cream. Sprinkle with bread crumbs. Bake at 200C until the potatoes are cooked – about 45 mins. Eat.

Salt herrings

salted herring

You’ll need to make these a few months in advance
Source: Wikipedia

A favourite with the Finns, salt herrings are in fact a 14th century Dutch invention. Fresh herrings are gutted leaving the liver and pancreas in. Next the fish are oak barrelled in brine for a few months. Enzymes in the remaining fish innards help to give the steeping fish a distinctive flavour.

Before consuming salt herrings, you first need to soak them in fresh water. Thats because after six months in the barrel, the salt content of the fish can be as high as 12 – 14%. Lightly salted versions are available though, with a typical salt content of 6 – 7%.

Roe and milt

Roe and milt

We’re not 100% convinced of this one
Source: Tenderloin

Never ones to waste a tasty part of the fish, roe and milt are popular additions to the Nordic Yuletide repast. Caviar is king of fish roes but there are many more affordable fish eggs you can spread on your toast. Try Finland’s ‘golden caviar’, made from the roe of the Vendace – a member of the salmon family. To make it go further mix with creme fraiche and finely chopped onion.

Fish roe we like – milt we’re not convinced about. While we’re sure its creamy texture and mild flavour make it a joy to spread over a cracker, the thought of eating cooked, chilled fish semen is a little more than we can bear.  Anyone for roast turkey?

A slow start…

My main target this spring and early summer is tench and bream, and the chosen water is a very pretty gravel pit containing big specimens of each species. Certainly, bream to 16lbs and tench just under 11lbs have been caught and verified. My biggest bream is the 15lb 2ozs specimen from Queenford Lagoon over twenty years ago and it has been 14 years since my last double figure tench; so, I’m champing at the bit!

I’m fishing the water in the company of my good friend and brilliant angler Alan Lawrence. Alan fished the water last spring and, after a slow start, amassed a staggering total of big fish of each species. He also took a handful of good carp on his tench rigs and, with the carp running to mid 30s, there’s the potential for a heart stopping battle on light feeder rods. I’m going to resist the temptation to deliberately fish for the carp, though. I have other carp waters to target; I am totally focused on the tench and bream.

I’ve just returned from my second 48 hour session on the water, and have to report that neither Alan nor I have had a bite! I do not count a 1lb pike that took a swimfeeder on the retrieve. We have been suffering the malaise of many waters up and down the country, with unseasonably cold conditions including strong east winds, heavy driving rain and water temperature more akin to February than May. I know, speaking to many friends, that most anglers are also struggling with the decidedly wintry conditions. I live in hope, though, that these cold, wet conditions will see some really heavyweight tench being caught once the weather normalises. My three double figure fish, plus a string of nine pounders as back up, were taken after the water warmed following an equally miserable spring in 1998.

Although there is no exciting fishing to report back on at the moment, I can report on some of the new TFG products. Having finally retired my battered old Armadillo bivvy, I can say that I am delighted with my new Lok Down. Finding bivvies that will do everything with enough space is hard enough. With almost two inches of rain on my first night using it this week, it could not have had a more strenuous waterproofing test, which it passed with flying colours. Also, the Armo was the Two-Man model and I did debate whether to go for a two man Lok Down as well. In the end I opted for the one man and it is very generously sized, more than big enough for a six footer like me plus a mountain of gear. The Two-Man must be like a dance hall!

The monsoon like conditions were also an extreme test for my new Dave Lane Mag Runner bite alarms. Where bite alarms are concerned, I have no patience with all the bells and whistles some anglers seem incapable of being without. All I ask is that they sound when I get a bite, they don’t give up the ghost in the cold or damp, and they don’t require a second mortgage to keep up with the battery use. I don’t need tone alteration or volume control, although the alarms are supplied with mufflers for those who insist on ultra quiet alarms. Personally, I am not a fan of remote receivers, although one is supplied with the Mag Runners. I suppose I’m a bit old fashioned, but still believe that when I have baits out I should be behind my rods. I will use the remote receiver, though, if I’m forced to sit well back from the rods in very rough weather, so it is an important addition.

I can confirm that they passed the cold and damp situation with no problems! What I particularly like is the small size, the lightness and the dumpy little 12V batteries which are so quick and easy to change. A few years ago, I had other alarms that used the same batteries, and the battery life was outstanding. The alarms themselves, though, were a nightmare in damp conditions, but that’s another story!

Lastly, I am delighted with the new Hardcore Heavy Duty Carryalls. For bivvy fishing, and for using a barrow, the traditional rucksack is hardly ideal. I wanted a tackle bag that was solidly free standing, and not always toppling over, making finding items a lot of messing about. Similarly, the rucksack is altogether the wrong shape for barrow work. I acquired two of the carryalls, one for my tackle and one for my food, stove, cooking equipment, water etc. As well as the easily accessible load carrying, the hard top makes an ideal table. I had several very favourable comments about this luggage and I predict this will become a big seller.

See you again in a couple of weeks, when hopefully I’ll have some big tench or bream to show. In the meantime, here’s a shot of a big tench from a year back to remind us all of what one looks like!


The Taff Demise? I think not.

Fly fishing on rivers has become vastly popular over the last eight to ten years, I remember days when we were the only anglers on the river. You could go anywhere, on any river and not see ten other anglers throughout the whole winter! There would seem to be just the few hardy grayling fishers, standing in the river with the water below 3 degrees and the air temperature even lower. Then, we had two techniques. Czech Nymphing and the Indicator.

Overtime, our flies and techniques have evolved, the Czech nymphing has more or less turned into french nymphing, using tapered leaders with short indicator pieces. The indicator, superbly impressive on its day – using a foam indicator (fish pimp.etc) has become the ‘Duo’ and ‘Trio’ fished with a dry fly as the indicator. All, very, very effective.

The lower Taff is designed to relieve the valley of water quickly. The steep banks and pools gather the water and lets the water flow  uninterrupted downstream in theory reducing the risk of flooding. Over the years, pools have changed and water flow has increased and subsided in some areas, obviously pushing the fish around into more comfortable areas.

Fish caught czech nymphing Mid winter 2009

But. There’s always a but. Especially on the Taff, the numbers of large grayling getting caught have dropped dramatically. Fish in access of 1.4lbs, which were very common in previous years. There is much speculation on what has caused the decrease of large grayling, angling pressure, cormorants and their life cycle.

I fished a tributary of the River Wye, the Irfon on the weekend with two friends last weekend, Tim Hughes and my usual fishing buddy, Jon. Tim has been around for some time, representing Wales at Rivers and Lake internationals and World-championships.

Tim had observed anglers from European countries fishing the Czech nymphing style whilst fishing the World Championship in Wales 1991 –  The Euporeans swept away the glory through fishing deep with heavyweight nymphs, something he wanted to master, and went on to qualify for river teams and take top welsh rod at one international on the Dee too.

We got talking at the bank about techniques, flies, fish, the usual stuff when on the bank and holding a rod. Tim had opted for a Czech nymph set-up, the way we used to do it, two heavily weighted, pretty large czech nymphs – Pink on the top dropper, a hotspot pink & hares ear in the middle, and a tungsten headed red tag hares ear on the point. Me and Jon, the usual, french leader setup.

Looking for a pool which the three of us could fish, we walked from the mouth of the Irfon upstream and eventually broke off the path into a long run. The kind which is only up to your knees, easy to wade and has plenty of pea gravel… The perfect grayling tertiary, right?

I pitched my fly into confluence of the slow & fast water on inside seam, and within a few seconds, I struck into a feisty browny on a pink bug… skill eh? Into the same crease, Jonathan made the same cast, and the indicator shot forward… it was a lady of around a pound. Again, third cast, I had another brown. A small shoal was located and as we move upstream it was obvious why, a small depression in the bottom with a dip of around 10 inches. Only if all pools where like this? We met up with Tim after he ‘bugged’ his way downstream to no apparent avail.

From there up, the water started to deepen, pools started to get larger and our catch rate seemed to go down, many trout but less grayling. This is how we usually fish the Taff, two nymphs.. change the weight and leader length accordingly to the depths. Tim on the other hand was ‘whacking ’em’ – Fishing these pools with heavy czech nymphs and double tungsten caddis patterns. I had heavy bugs on, 4mm tungys, I seemed to be fishing the bottom, but I couldn’t get them.. I quick change from the french leader to a braided fly line and three heavy bugs went on. A few casts in I was into a lovely grayling. We continued fishing picking off grayling and the odd trout in the fast and powerful water.

Talking to Tim later in the day we were discussing the lack of larger grayling in the Taff, their there, because their caught sometimes.. Usually when the waters low.. When we can reach them. It suddenly hit me, with the same situation happening that day, Jon and I would have had a pretty dower day for grayling if we hadn’t switched to the Czech style of nymphing. When fishing the Duo, Trio and the French Leader – Our flies are naturally lighter – Its our mind set. Dryflies can only suspend so much weight before being submerged, and two flies are never going to be as heavy as three.

Maybe we’re not catching any large grayling because were not fishing like we used to? Our flies may be too light, and not getting down to them. Trout don’t usually feed on the bottom unless grubbing, maybe that’s why trout and small grayling catches have increase.

Are we REALLY getting down there?

Written by Kieron Jenkins

A day on the River Ebbw

After nearly a week off work due to sickness, I couldn’t wait to get out of the house! There is only so many spaces in a fly box you can fill when you’re housebound! The dog looked on in anticipation, while I was at the vice, waiting to be taken for a walk Friday evening. So away with the scissors, and on with the harness, Jess and I went for a walk down the Taff  trail from Abercynon towards Cilfynydd. The trail runs more or less parallel along the river for nearly a mile or so and at every opportunity we would go to the edge of the river to jump in… Well, the dog would. I’d be there trying to spot rising fish before any disturbance would seep across the pools!

Watching a few untouched glides, it was obvious throughout the day there must have been a good hatch of fly; Blue winged olives, brook duns, and sedge. The wind had calmed, the air temperature was warm and the spinners descended. That magical hour before dark the spinners were in abundance, the margins filled and the trout rising freely… If only I had a rod, not a lead! On the way back to the house, I had a text saying ‘ Where we going tomorrow?’ from my good friend Bish. My reply was ‘Fishing’ of course.

8:30 the following morning, Bish was outside, so in with the fishing rods, and off to pick Terry up. We decided in the morning we would fish the River Ebbw down near Bassaleg, Newport.The river Ebbw is much the same as the upper stretches of the Taff, small, fast with a few nice glides thrown in and an abundance of wild Trout. As there was three of us, we decided that we would go fish for fish. We set a few rules, the person who is fishing must fish all the water, not miss any part of a pool out to get to the best part. Each angler has 20 minutes fishing unless a fish is hook, lost, or caught. So they wouldn’t be waiting around for me all day!

We tackled up on the bottom of a slow glide, it was pretty early, and there wasn’t much in the way of fly life to be seen, just the odd sedge in the margins and a trout that rose once in the middle of the run. We took three rods, one set up with a dry fly, Duo and a french leader to hopefully cover all the possible situations.

The first run we came to looked perfect. A fast run through the middle, two creases and slack water ether side, with the odd bush for cover. Bish had the french leader rod,  we decided he could catch the first fish as he had not been out for a while, so 3 very well placed casts left me 6 flies down within the first 5 minutes! ‘Those trees have an eye for something shiny’ he said!

Moving swiftly upstream, out of the way of any foliage what so ever we tried again. 20 minutes passed without Bish getting a take, so it was to Terry to prove it wasn’t going to be a long day ahead! Another 20 mins passed, no fish! What was going on?? Where are the fish, we wondered. I look over, I had two Jigs on the french leader, we was approaching a fairly deep run, with a nice flow, within the first few casts I was into a fish, which managed to come off as it jumped to free the hook. The rod was passed back to Jonathan, and within 5 minutes another trout was to hand! The fishing started to pick up steadily through the day with each person taking fish within a few minutes of starting their 20 minutes. We worked our way upstream covering good water taking many fish out of the runs.

It was probably around 1pm we’d entered a pool which looked pretty tranquil and inviting. A few olives started to pop about and the sun was breaking through the dark clouds which seemed to linger from the beginning of the day. This was probably one of the best pools I’d fished on the Ebbw, plenty of fish, and the best seat in the house – Fishing in comfort.

My french leader consists of a 9meter tapered camoufil leader, with a piece of Airflo braid as my indicator. The camoufil leaders are available in a few different lengths – 350cm 450cm and 900cm, I prefer the longer one as it allows me to cover more water with ease. Its presentation skills are brilliant at range, giving good turn over soft landing, catching you more fish in the slow runs.

As we moved upstream, the olives started hatching in good numbers and the fish started to pop. It was my turn again, after the boys had a few fish and Terry spotted a nice fish over 1 and a half pounds rising very confidently the pool we were in. A cast upstream to judge the distance, and then another to get the fly to drift properly and it was on. A few good head shakes, and it was obvious it was a better fish. The fight lasted nearly 5 minutes, but in that time Terry had just got his camera out to video the landing.


After the fish was released, we headed to the top of the run and into the eddies being caused by the obstructions. Bish’s first cast into the eddy, the indicator was holding there static, but then darted off to the left, he stuck and another good fish came out of the water and ran downstream. Both Terry and I turned our cameras on and was ready and waiting for the fish to be landed. Again another fish of around 1 – 1/4 -1/2 lb.

The River Ebbw is probably one of the most prolific trout rivers in the UK. The amount of fish the river holds is amazing, but the average size is even better! It’s very common to come away from the river catching and returning well into double figures of trout on a variety of methods. Average size of the rivers fish is probably just over half a pound, with many fish being captured up to 16-18 inches long.

Written by Kieron Jenkins