Sea-trout Fishing in Wales (Why, When, Where)

With sea-trout averaging 5 ½lbs in May on many rivers and still carrying an average weight of 4lbs by the middle of July, along with fish of over 20lbs recorded last year alone, you would be forgiven for thinking that we were talking about some far flung destination where ‘Cerveza’ and ‘Empanadas’ would reflect the local lingo! Not so! Welcome to one of Wales’ best kept secrets; the mystical and ever captivating sea-trout.

These silver tourists grace every corner of Wales; chances are where a large freshwater deposit meets saltwater sea-trout will be found. From the mighty Welsh Dee in North Wales right round to the Usk in South Wales, sea-trout make their presence and annual ascent. As they ascend, we, the anglers, embark on annual pilgrimages and traditions pursuing these illusive silver ghosts.

sea-trout wales

But what makes sea-trout so special? No other species captivates and drives an angler, sometimes to despair, like sea-trout. Sea-trout fishing becomes a lot more than just about the catch – it becomes an addiction, sometimes to unhealthy levels proportions! As the shadows loom and all colour is lost under the night-sky, the period of quiet contemplation and solitude soon transforms to expectation and anticipation as the once devoid pool comes alive with sea-trout marking their presence with their acrobatic display that is without equal.

The sea-trout are primarily targeted in the night due to their shy and retiring nature in the daytime during summer low-flows and clear waters. However, given a spate and daytime action can be nothing short of exhilarating, be that with a fly, spinner or worm. For the fly angler it is the night-time sport on a humid summer evening that holds the true attraction and tradition of sea-trout fishing. At first the mere thought of flailing a length of carbon around in the dark sounds nothing short of idiotic. As the flies find their way to the trees behind then the trees in front idiotic soon turns to demoralisation and a feeling of attempting an insurmountable goal. However, when one pull from a sea-trout is achieved these trepidations will soon be forgotten, the addiction will take hold, and the drug will drive you on for as long as you have a drive to fish. This really is the pinnacle of the fly anglers’ quarry in the UK.

Why Wales? Very little light pollution, rivers that produce the largest fish and largest catches in the UK, easy to get to, good accessibility on all rivers, relatively cheap, an abundance of wildlife, beautiful and unspoilt countryside and if this wasn’t enough; Wales is the country that holds the longest tradition of fishing for sea-trout, especially so at night. So why travel thousands of miles, spending thousands of pounds getting to a destination like Tierra-Del-Fuego, where the wind will drag the hair from your scalp and the countryside is a monotonous plane?

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What about the usual ‘Where, When and How’? The ‘Where’ and ‘When’ are correlated, as the when you go where is of particular importance to a anadromous species such as the sea-trout, because they enter different river systems at different times, and different run sizes and fish sizes enter at different stages throughout the year. As a general rule; nothing can beat local knowledge when it comes to dictating an individual river’s run, as this is something that is monitored and cultivated not only yearly but through many generations, which has made timescales largely predictable. As such, the first step is to decide where you would like to target sea-trout, and then a little further research can pay dividends.

Rivers that have historically produced good runs and numbers of sea-trout include (from North to South); Mawddach, Dovey, Rheidol, Ystwyth, Teifi, Towy, Neath. This list is by no means exclusive or extensive, and as was previously mentioned; chances are where a large freshwater system meets saltwater sea-trout will be found to varying degrees. Indeed, many of the listed rivers have tributaries that are worthy of a mention in their own right, and many of these tributaries make for excellent starting points for newcomers to the sport, being less intimidating than the main systems.

With your river system now chosen we progress on our Welsh sea-trout journey through to the ‘how’. Firstly, and rather pertaining to the previous point regarding acquiring local knowledge, whenever possible do try and source a local guide to help you through the inevitable trepidations a newcomer faces. The benefits and guidance of a local and well rehearsed guide has never been as pertinent as when night-time sea-trout fishing is in question. Not only will the guide be there to assist you in overcoming well known obstacles that run in conjunction with night-time fishing, to which there will usually be well known antidotes, but they will also mature you into the art and get you accustomed to ‘things that go bump in the night’.

The tackle you bring will generally be dictated by the system you have chosen. For example, it would be a foolish angler that journeys to a river like the Nevern or the Cothi with a 13ft double hander, where a 9ft rod would be the order of the day. Again, a little research and obtaining some local knowledge would go a long way. However, as a general rule, and for the majority of the larger or well known Welsh sea-trout rivers a rod between 9-11ft rated for a #7-9 is ideal, with a 10ft #8 being a perfect ally – no need to splash out on a ‘sea-trout’ branded rod, any reservoir/lake rod will suffice, and crossover admirably. I would personally advise a middle or middle-tip action blank as fast rods and tight loops can spell disaster at night both from the fishing and the catching perspective, but the brand is totally your prerogative.

The technology and time invested in fly line development over recent years is significant, where we get to reap the rewards. However, the cost of these lines has not increased in correlation with this investment; indeed, lines are cheaper nowadays than they ever have been. As such, this is one aspect where I would say; be prepared! And don’t let a £30 investment be the shortfall of your success and failure of the trip. A floating line is paramount, and an essential addition to your fly fishing tackle. However, chances are you will need to search out those deeper lying fish at some stage, where even the heaviest of flies on your floating line will not suffice. As a rule I would advise you to carry at least three lines; a floater, intermediate and a medium/fast sinker. These should also be accompanied with a set of salmon/steelhead polyleaders in various densities, to allow you to explore other tangents and depths. The key here is to be prepared; better to have it with you and not use it, rather than found wanting.

The same advice is reiterated when flies are in question too. Bring everything and the kitchen sink! As you never know what will charm the bar of silver from the deeps – over the seasons I have heard of several sea-trout in excess of 10lbs falling to patterns such as; zulu, sparklers, and even a dry daddy long-legs skated as a surface lure in the dead of night! Most shops now hold an array of sea-trout patterns, many of which target the anglers equally as well as the sea-trout. However, in general these can provide inspiration as well as supplementary stocks to your armoury. There are several books as well as online articles on the Fishing-Wales website regarding tried and tested patterns for sea-trout, which would hold you in good stead when compiling an arsenal of fly fishing tackle.

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With your fly fishing rods, lines and flies in order the other items on the checklist are straightforward yet paramount and essential. Firstly, personal safety should be covered at this juncture; no fish is worth your life. Always carry a life-vest, accidents can happen in the most unsuspecting of locations. Further to that, some safety glasses are a wise investment at around £5 a pair, and a wading staff can be of use when fishing unknown waters, as can a rescue whistle and a mobile phone in a waterproof bag. Secondly, always carry more torches than you need, with 2 being a minimum. A good headtorch with changeable settings that includes a red-light or red-filter is advisable, as the red light preserves your night vision. Further to that, some heavy nylon – we rarely revert to nylon strengths below 12lbs when night fishing, with good reason – a priest, disgorger, and some late night sustenance compiles the makings of a sea-trout tackle-bag. Always carry enough fishing clothing, as temperatures and weather fluctuates considerably during the night. It is, of course, advisable to carry a coat even though we all know it never rains in Wales…

Steffan’s Nightime setup and fly fishing bag contents:

  • Rods; I usually carry 2 rods set-up with different tactics; one usually holding a floater, the other a sinking line of some description. I currently use the Airflo Airlite 10ft for #7/8 rods.
  • Reels; don’t skimp on quality – quality doesn’t always equate to expensive! Make sure the drag is smooth, and that it can hold a decent amount of backing to cover all eventualities.
  • Lines; I use a lot of the Airflo 40+ Extreme fly lines in densities from floating through to di-5. These are great lines for medium and large river systems. The Sewincaster range of lines are also a firm favourite, and are specifically designed for this aspect of the sport.
  • Waders; waders of some description are usually essential, even though wading above your knees is rarely required.  I would advise felt and studded (combination) soles.
  • Nylon; Terry Eustace pro gold in 12lbs and 15lbs. Alternatively, Maxima Ultragreen. Also, a spool of 15-20lbs fluorocarbon for surface lure work, and a spool of 8lbs fluorocarbon for dusk and daylight fishing – I have faith in Airflo G3.

Steffan runs Angling-Worldwide, a company that specialises in sea-trout fishing packages, courses, and guiding in Wales, with a history of doing so stemming back for over a decade. For further information contact:

Web: www.anglingworldwide.com
Phone: 07879 898 344
Mail: Angling-Worldwide, Crosslane, Dolgran, Pencader, Carmarthenshire, SA39 9BY

Surface Lures: a Science to Success

Chapters in books old and new along with countless articles have been written and dedicated bestowing the virtues of surface lures for sea-trout. Yet, even with this endorsement, surface-lures would rarely make it into the majority of sea-trout anglers’ night-time armoury – remaining as something that looks pretty in the box, being unleashed only as something of a last resort; akin to a booby on a Stillwater.

However, I would sell you the fact that on its night the surface-lure will outfish any other method and fly in your armoury, and should be deployed as a first line of attack not as a contingency plan. In addition, surface lures offer the most exhilarating and intimate form of catching sea-trout due to their added visual aspect – as contradicting as this may sound, being deployed at night – along with the accompanying sound effects.

Surface Lures

Anything that floats can be used as a surface-lure, and, on its night, will produce fish – I once spoke to an angler who’d caught a double-figure sea-trout on the river Towy in West-Wales using a daddy long-legs pattern! However, introduce a bit of science and thought into the equation and an increased amount of takes and landed fish will soon follow.

Firstly, as with all sea-trout patterns, size and profile are paramount – getting these variables right, along with the right depth, are the key overriding factors beyond all else. Secondly, and this is the main variable that you must strive to achieve when creating a surface lure because if you get it right then the amount of takes and landed fish will increase dramatically; your surface-lure needs to be critically balanced. Now I’m not talking to the extremities of intricacies deployed by the boilie brigade, however, the logic remains largely the same. And here’s the key phrase; a surface lure fished ‘in’ the surface film will outfish one that’s fished ‘on’ the surface film every night of the season.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, and most importantly, a fish can intercept and eat an object that is stuck within the surface film easier than it can one that is bobbing around on the surface film. Take an adult olive, for example, trying to pick one off the surface to study as it glides past you is nigh on impossible, largely due to water displacement. The same applies from below, hence why trout prefer to target semi-hatched, crippled, or flies stuck within the film than those on the film that could escape when the trout attempts to intercept them, which would equate to expending fruitless energy. As the trout rises the water displaces around it with anything on the film being carried on a flex away from the trout. An object stuck within the film, however, won’t suffer this movement to the same extent, thus making them easier or guaranteed food items.

The same principle applies to our flies. Hence the reason why patterns such as klinkhammers produce so well; being ‘safe’ food objects due to their immobile state. This also explains why trout will often ignore a natural and take an imitation.

Secondly, with this point being of particular relevance to surface lures; a fly riding in the surface is able to push more water or create more of a wake than one that is riding on the surface. Given a surface lure with a round profile, for example, it would have a greater surface area in contact with the water when fished in the film compared to when it is fished on the film, therefore pushing a greater area of water, creating more of a commotion and a greater wake – essential characteristics of a competent surface lure.

Achieving this critical balance or buoyancy however, can be somewhat of a tedious affair, especially if some simple considerations are not applied and adhered to.

Variables such as hook weight do have an effect on buoyancy; however, material choice is the key variable and the one that requires the greatest consideration in order to achieve this critical buoyancy or balance.

Personally I loathe surface lure patterns that incorporate foam of any description – especially high-density foam that tends to float very high and doesn’t become saturated to help counteract this flaw. Cork tends to suffer the same demise, too. The first reliable permutation is that utilised in the majority of mouse patterns; deer-hair body with the front third constructed of foam. These can work well, and the extra buoyancy of the foam meant that the fly ‘cocked’ and rode in the surface with the hooks trailing sub-surface. However, a far better permutation, and on that fits the aforementioned criteria, is a surface lure that is constructed entirely of deer hair.

Materials should be viewed in their dry and in their wet (fishing) state, with deer hair being no exception. Characteristics and even colour can change dramatically once immersed. A deer hair surface-lure can, at first, be too buoyant riding on the surface film. However, due to its natural properties it will become somewhat waterlogged after a few casts, thus beginning to fish in the surface film, perfect.

Another great characteristic of utilising natural materials such as deer hair is that they can be manipulated and moulded very easily into creating a perfect profile. What should we look for in the profile? Again, there are a couple of variables that if adhered to will hold you in good stead.

surface lures (2)

Firstly; the scruffier the tying the better! Luckily for me. You want that scruffy, straggly profile, which mimics appendages etc. of a naturally skittering or stunned morsel.

Secondly, a bulbous head is a must for a surface lure in order for it to maximise its water pushing potential. Start with a bulbous head that tapers towards the tail, avoiding even profiles. Tapering towards the tail is equally as important because this means that there is less material at the hook-end, which may otherwise inhibit a good hook-up. This area of less buoyancy also equates to the hook drawing in and under the water’ surface, again maximizing its effectiveness and hook penetration.

Thirdly, avoid round profiles. Clip the under section on the surface-lure closely to form either a flat or slightly concaved appearance, leaving the sides clipped straggly  and the greatest buoyancy in the top section. Achieving this enables the fly to sit in the film with the hooks riding under the film, thus lodging the fly firmly in position with little chance of displacement. This profile will also maximise the surface area in contact with the water’ surface, as the mid, bulky section will be the part drawn through the surface, thus creating maximum wake and commotion.

This is, of course, my hypothesis and I don’t wish it to seem dogmatic to those who get on perfectly well with their cork or foam surface lures, and, I’m sure, catch their fair chare of sea-trout. It is, however, what I have deduced from years of experimentation and deliberation. As such, if nothing more, I would ask that you take the points into consideration the next time you fish or tie a surface lure.

With the intricacies of the tying covered, there are a few helpful hints that will hold you in good stead when fishing surface lures too, and, if taken into consideration whilst or prior to commencing fishing, would maximise the surface lure’s potential.

Firstly, stiff and heavy nylon is a virtue. Too fine a nylon selection would make the fly hinge when casting, which adds to the casting complexity and usually equates to interminable tangling. Rarely would I use nylon under 15lbs when fishing surface lures, and I would normally opt for a stiff fluorocarbon. Why such a strong leader and why fluorocarbon? The strong leader is utilised first and foremost for the reasons noted previously i.e. the ease of turning over the large, bulky flies – some of which may be over 3 inches long, with a diameter of over an inch in the head section. Take the Jambo, for example, being one of if not the finest surface lure around.. However, as a rule, I would never go bellow 12lbs for any of my night-time fishing, quite simply because the fish are not leader shy at night and utilising such nylon weights maximises my chances of landing a big fish, it gives me a modicum of control if stopping or turning a fish is required, and when the inevitable over-casting is done you are less likely to decorate the trees! Fluorocarbon sinks quicker than standard nylon – especially in the thicker diameters. I doubt this has little effect on the fish or the fishing pattern of the surface lures, but it’s a little factor that gives me confidence, so I persevere with it. My wet, sunk fly fishing is always with standard nylon at night-time – there’s very little point in spending money needlessly on expensive monofilament for the aforementioned approaches.

Leader length is also important. Forget long leaders! They’re not needed. The longer the leader the more trouble you are likely to get into. 5-6ft is ample – you can taper it down if you wish with a heavier butt section, but I tend to keep it simple and run the same diameter straight through.

Another tip worth noting is how the surface lure should be attached to the leader. I tend to fish surface lures on a loop, such as that achieved through a rapala-knot, which allows the surface lure to move more freely, and, hopefully, achieve a better fishing pattern as opposed to one that was confined to a strangulation point with the eye, as would be the case with a conventional e.g. blood knot. Again, a fine detail, but one that I do draw confidence from.

How you fish the surface lures is answerable by the components and variables you are faced with. For example; if there’s a strong current then little or no retrieve may be required. If, however, there’s very little or no flow – usually good holding water, and good surface lure water – then a retrieve of some description is required. Many people advocate stripping, however, I’ve never had much luck with such retrieves, and would always utilise and advocate constant retrieves beyond stripping, retrieves such as figure of eight and roly-poly – with this rule being generic to my subsurface fishing too. Even in very fast currents, which isn’t usually prime surface lure water, I would advocate a very slow figure of eight – more to keep one’s attention than to add some attraction to the surface lure. As a general rule the faster the water the slower the retrieve, and the slower the water the faster the retrieve. In addition, the faster the water the lower down the presentation of the surface lure should be made; e.g. 45 degrees in fast water, and square or upstream in the slower water. This is largely determined and justified by the amount of time the fish needs to intercept the fly i.e. if a cast was done square across the current in a fast run then the fly would be dragged across very quickly, whereas by opening up the angle the fly is allowed to fish a lot slower, thus allowing more time for the fish to intercept the pattern, time that they do not require to the same extent in the slower pools or sections.

The tail of a pool can be a great place to swing a surface lure, but I would tend to target the slower areas of the pool where the main bulk and concentration of the fish are likely to be holding – especially the main bulk of the larger fish. In such water I may vary the casting angle from square to directly upstream, and the retrieve from a conservative figure of eight through to a turbo-propelled roly-poly. The secret is to experiment, soon enough something will show a liking – if it fails to connect, or doesn’t take any further interest, then mark the spot where the fish was turned and cover it later with wet-fly tactics – Surface lures are a great fish-finding method and can form a great partnership with more conventional methods.

Another tactic worth trying if you find the fish are refusing or not connecting with the surface lure is to fish a trailer some 1-3ft behind the surface lure. The surface lure acts as an attractor, with the trailer providing a sub-surface offering that the fish may take with more confidence. It’s a tactic that works very well and is well worth trying, the surface lure may also be exchanged for a muddler pattern in such circumstances, in which case the trailer can be fished ‘New-Zealand’ style.

Surface lures will take fish from the beginning of the season, especially if the river temperature has risen from its winter slumber. As a rule, however, surface lures do tend to be a mid and late season tactic – working particularly well on the classical humid nights of late July and August when the fish are very active. Surface lures will draw fish to the surface even if there has been no activity all night, make no mistake. As such, don’t think you have to wait to see fish on the surface before you can catch them on/in the surface.

Certain nights indefinitely suit and produce more fish to surface lures than others. Light nights are certainly not favourable, yet, fish can still be taken when the surface lures are fished in shaded spots, or under trees. However, fish tend to splash a lot on such nights, with very few connecting firmly. Given a dark-night, however, and the results are transformed, where very few fish miss or come astray.

Takes can vary from the very explosive to very fine sips that the first you will know about is an almighty tug from the receiving end – these fine takes, as with wet-flies, can, and inevitably do, turn out to be the larger fish. In contrast, some takes can be so aggressive and visual on the surface that they scare you – I cherish these moments, they keep me lucid throughout the winter months.

No matter what has been pre-written regarding perfect fishing conditions, as ambiguous and tangible the logic behind these notions often are, a surface lure is worth a speculative cast no matter what you are faced with. For example, I remember an evening several seasons ago now where a lightning storm was looming, yet the fish were going ‘potty’ for surface lures. Very few casts reached their extremity without being molested in some form, be it a take, swirl, or a positive hook-up. That night, a night where most anglers wouldn’t have bothered to fish let alone fish a surface lures, eleven sea-trout came to the net before the storm came too close for comfort, whereas wet-fly tactics had passed them by without interest.

Give them a swim; open your mind, unleash your senses, and see what you’ve been missing out on.

Steffan runs Angling-Worldwide, a company that specialises in sea-trout fishing packages, courses, and guiding in Wales, with a history of doing so stemming back for over a decade. For further information contact:

Web: www.anglingworldwide.com
Phone: 07879 898 344
Mail: Angling-Worldwide, Crosslane, Dolgran, Pencader, Carmarthenshire, SA39 9BY

Also check out:
http://www.fishing.visitwales.com/en/content/cms/Game/Sea_Trout/Sea_Trout.aspx

Fly Fishing For Pike

Catching Pike on the fly is one of the fastest growing branches of fly-fishing. Pike are a true sport fish which fight very hard on fishing tackle. They are one of the fastest fish that swim in our freshwaters, and in the spring and summer with warm water temperatures they will tail walk and leap just as readily as a Salmon or Trout. Whilst not making long screaming runs, they will rush and pull with bulldog tenacity with an almost unbelievable strength.

For the Fly fisherman they make a great alternative to Salmon, particularly with the state of the stocks at the moment, and they provide a similar ‘big fish’ thrill. They can often be caught in conditions that would normally be hopeless for Trout, in flat calms and hot bright sunshine. Pike fly-fishing also opens up many famous Trout reservoirs to the coarse angler in search of a specimen. Gigantic Pike have actually been caught on fishing tackle, for example the 40lb 8oz record fish from Chew caught in May.

The optimum fly rods would be a 9 foot #9 or #10 weight, the heavy line rating being needed to punch out and turnover outsized flies. 9 foot proves less tiring to use all day than a longer rod due to less leverage on the arm. To cast the big flies use a slower stroke than usual with an open loop.

14lb llangorse

The rod I normally use is the Airflo Bluetooth 9’ #8/9 which I use with a floater or intermediate WF9. The lines I use on this rod are the Airflo cold saltwater ridge floater and the cold saltwater ridge intermediate. Both have a low stretch core which helps set the hooks and detect the most delicate of takes. I also use a Bluetooth XT in the 9’ #10/11 which I use with fast sinking lines such as the Airflo depth finder 300 grain, for the occasions when the Pike are in deep open water in depths of over 20 foot.

As for reels any thing that will accommodate the line with about 50 yards of backing will be fine, your normal trout reel 6/9 size will do. You need not worry about too much backing, as the Pike will not run hundreds of yards when hooked. A great reel would be the Airflo switch cassette in 7/9, which comes with extra spools and has a decent drag system.

A wire trace is essential, there are several types on the market, the most satisfactory of which I find to be the Airflo titanium predator polyleader which incorporates a titanium trace with a snap link which makes changing the fly a simple businesses. They also never kink unlike some other types meaning that they last practically forever.

Flies need to be on the large size, I generally use from 2/0 to 6/0 wide gape chemically sharpened sea hooks, with a total dressing length of perhaps 6 inches. Flies as small as 3 inches will catch Pike, but the bigger stuff tends to attract a better stamp of fish. The fly needn’t be a perfect imitation of a prey fish; a hank of crystal flash tied to hook will and has caught good Pike. Surface wake lures can also be deadly which I tie with a big lump of plaztezote for a head. The takes to surface lures are often incredible in their ferocity and is without a doubt one of the most exhilarating things in fishing anywhere. The best and most consistent colour is yellow. Please see the Airflo Predator Ex-citer range of flies on the website, these are tried and tested lures and are based on my own patterns.

12lb 8oz Llangorse

The retrieve used is not normally a fast strip as you might think but rather a slow twitchy figure of eight interspersed with long pulls and pauses. This seems to be the most effective retrieve for them. The take to subsurface flies is usually a drawing away of the line much like a Trout taking a buzzer. Set the hook by strip striking, pull the fly home into the Pikes mouth – do not lift the rod straight away or you will miss the fish. If you do miss one cast for it again as they will usually come back for another go. I remember one instance where my boat partner actually hooked and lost the same Pike twice only for it to take my fly on the third attempt! Takes to surface lures are usually an explosive affair which may cause you to strike with a ‘knee jerk’ reaction – again what you must do is allow the fish to turn down with the fly before strip striking.

When hooked you can play the Pike as hard as you want, there is more chance of loosing them if you play them lightly as they will dive into cover, also by bullying them you will insure the hook is well and truly embedded into the hard jaw. The Airflo lines with low stretch cores will help the hook setting process greatly.

A good net I would recommend would be the McLean’s Salmon weigh net, which will comfortably swallow up monster fish. Its size and shape make it ideal for use on a boat. Long nosed forceps are a must for unhooking, such as the Dr Slick Cuda 8 ½ inch pliers.

Pike Head

Pike, despite the ferocious appearance and reputation are one of the most delicate fish when taken out of the water and need to be carefully revived until their strength returns before releasing them, particularly in warm summer water. The unhooking is a much easier job with a fly compared to lures and dead baits. Fly hooked Pike go back much better than fish hooked on a treble hook and they are very rarely deeply hooked.

Les Noyer

I arrived at the gates of Les Noyer around 9.45am on Saturday following a two & half hour drive from Roscoff, and after a short wait for the bailiff to let us in we pulled up outside a large house overlooking a small lake.
Talking to bailiff she told us about the previous couple of months fishing and informed me that the previous months fishing had been fairly quiet. As we started to unload the van and looked at the water I decided to have a walk around the lake so I could get my bearings and start to build a plan of action for my fishing.
After a good stroll around the lake I decided to set up on the second bay and fish to the far side of the lake, to the outlet which was the deepest part of the lake. I cast my line onto the other bank and placed my bait onto my hair then slowly lowered my rig in to my chosen area, scattering 60 freebies around the area.

At about 4.30pm, a single bleep from the bite alarm stopped me and I looked round just in time to see the middle one of my fishing rods roar off. After a ten minute battle I slipped the net under a lovely looking 21lb mirror, and I wondered if this might be a taste of what might be to come, by the late afternoon the temperature had hit around 12 degrees and the rain had started, I still had to put my other rods out.

I had a good play around with a marker float and soon had the lake mapped out. My second rod was going towards a small bar which was straight in the middle of the lake. I casted out a small pva bag fill 15mm fruity boilies and pellets onto the bar and scattered 100 boilies around the area, after setting up my third rod I saw a fish top in the bay to the left of me, I walked my rod round and placed my rig close to the edge with about 10 crushed boilies scattered around it.
I was awoken the next morning by a 2 bleeps from the bite alarm on my right hand rod, after a few minutes watching my rod nothing happened. Later that day set up my sons 6ft rod and set him up in the stock lake with a float and fresh maggots, within 1 minute of casting out he was into a fish; a small roach, and then every cast he was in again, that was a good days sport while I was waiting for some action of my own.
The sun was soon setting in the background and the temp slowly dropped, it was time to get a good warm meal in me, which got delivered to my peg, beef wild mushrooms white asparagus fresh truffles with a nice glass of red wine from the local area, I’m glad I had my own chef with me for this week. There was no action through the night, so it was time to recast and start again.
Still no fish so we decided to wind in the rods pack away our fishing gear and have a day out, we headed to La Mans which is about one and a half hours away, we walked around the old part of the town and got a few bits of fancy food for the next couple of days, then a drive to La Mans race track for the rest of the day. It was good to get out and see France and clear my mind of fishing, we headed back and I soon was planning my new plan of attack.

I changed all my rigs to a combi set up with small pva bags out they went in three new areas of the lake, now it was waiting time to see what would happen. The next morning my right had rod screamed off and as I hit it I soon saw it was not a fish but a carpal that had taken my bait up on the bank (at least my alarms work). Friday soon came I was now under pressure to catch another fish before I left, later that day I was sitting out enjoying the sun and a spot of lunch when my margin rod screamed off, I shot over like a rocket as I hit into a good fish, I played it slowly trying to wear it out, after a short battle the net slipped under the fish and in the net she was, a last a nice looking mirror well worth the wait. Then after a few photo shots back she went, the pressure was off now I can back and finish of my lunch, lobster salad it’s a hard life!


Saturday morning was soon here and time to pack the coarse fishing tackle away as I loaded up the van and sat on the wall with a nice cup of tea looking out on the lake, this was a very peaceful place. Maybe the summer months might produce more fish? But I still had two nice mirrors and a good day out in Le Mans.

Samantha Collins-Ratcliffe

New Compact Fishing Rods

I am very excited about the new range of TF Gear Compact fishing rods. For many years now I have believed that we use rods that are too long. Long rods are unwieldy on all but the biggest waters, and on most modern fisheries (where long casting is unnecessary) they can be a liability. Anyone whom has tickled the backside of the bloke in the next swim when trying to feeder fish on their local water will appreciate what I am saying

The Compact range, designed and tested by yours truly are, I reckon, the best fishing rods to come out for a long time. The rods retain all the power and attributes of regular rods in but in shorter lengths. And those of you who have tried using short rods will know that you get much more power and leverage.
When I go fishing, I like to be as mobile as possible, and these rods are so easy to carry that you forget that you have them in your hand sometimes. Indeed, touch legering with the eight or ten foot Compact feeder is effortless – you can sit there all day without the tip wobbling around.

The Compact Range includes 10′ Carp, 10′ Feeder, 8′ Feeder and a 10′ Specimen Float. All are real pocket battleships with killer actions.
I recently used the 10′ float at Himley Hall in Dudley where I caught carp of 10, 14, 16, 22, 24, 25 and 30 pounds without one snap-off or lost fish. Incidentally, I also landed grass carp to twenty six pounds too! The ten foot float is also a great floater rod for commercials and a nice alternative to an avon for barbel and chub on small rivers.

The carp rods are perfect for small to medium carp waters, and perfect for anglers who don’t want to carry a heavy armoury of carp kit. At two and half pounds test curve, they are perfect for general carp fishing and also make great stalking and floater rods for big fish. I would use them without hesitation on all commercial-style waters where long range casting is not required. Having said this, the rods will cast over eighty meters in the right hands. A big bonus is that they make cracking pike boat rods!

Perhaps the star of the show, though, is the 8′ feeder. This is a cracking little rod and a real pocket battleship. It too has already landed carp into the mid-twenties without breaking sweat. I can’t wait to use this rod for some touch legering for barbel and chub this winter. I used the prototype last year and it was awesome!
The best part is that all the fishing rods come in at decent money. They are top quality but because they are shorter we use less carbon, hence a lower price!

Creedy Fishing Lakes

I recently spent a day at a lovely water near Exeter called Creedy Lakes, which is owned and run by Sandra & Stewart Tuner. Set in peaceful, picturesque surroundings, these two 18th century spring-fed waters offer some of the hardest fighting carp in Devon. Abundantly stocked with immaculate commons to over 31lbs, mirror and koi carp, together with green and golden tench, making it one of the best big fish day ticket water venues in the Southwest. The main lake is about 4 acres and holds a good head of carp up to 31lb.

On this session I was more than pleased with all 3 fish over the 20lb mark, but the one I won’t forget is the bigger one of them. I knew as soon as my barbel rod had screamed with this fish and I had hooked into it that is was unlike any of the others I had played that day. It played me hard, much more so than the 21lb I had landed that morning. It used its weight to try and hold up in the water and I had no option but to let it play me and take more line off my fishing reel when needed.

After what seemed like a long tense struggle with the fish it was finally by the net but was still not going to give up that easily and was still fighting hard. With a final struggle the fish was in the bottom of the net and already I knew that I had a fair sized carp in there. When I put it on the unhooking mat it became apparent that this fish was not only pretty long but also pretty wide and weighed in at 27lb 3oz. What a cracker of a fish it was and I couldn’t wait to have my photograph taken with it.

I was proud to be able to put this fish back into the lake ready for someone else to catch another day. I know that I can’t expect action like this every time I visit a day ticket water but it is a good feeling when it does happen. I will never underestimate, and neither should anybody else, the success that can be achieved from a day ticket water.

Winter Wonderland

Chew valley lake is now open again for a brief two weeks for Pike angling. Myself and fellow TFG team members Tim, Simon and Steve had been lucky enough to get two boat bookings. The problem was getting there – overnight Bristol had been hit by severe snow storms and one of the Severn bridges was closed. We had a hair raising journey through icy winding country roads and finally arrived at the lodge in one piece. With a hearty full english wolfed down we set out on the 1200 acre water.

The air temperatures were hovering around zero and some of the shallower bays were iced over, the water itself was highly coloured and only 1 degree. Thankfully the wind was not too strong and with our fishing clothing, chill out boots and fleeces we were all comfortably protected from the elements.Things did not look promising as by early afternoon we had not had any action at all, not a sniff to deadbaits or the usual soft plastics and jerkbaits.
As a change of tactic I switched to one of the new cutting Edge Jig fishing rods and bumped a smaller shad back hard on the bottom at a very slow pace. I was rewarded with 5 and 8 lb jacks in quick succession and also a 3lb 8 oz Perch. So the fish were there to be caught.

Late afternoon bouncing a jig over a ledge I landed a Perch of 4lb 1 oz, just as this was returned boat partner Simon had a run on his deadbait and after a good scrap I netted a very fat 19lb Pike for him.


As the light faded the wind completely died leaving a tranquil scene. Both boats were positioned on a drop off slope about 50 yards from the bank. I threw out a bright green grub tail on a jig head close to the bank and bounced it back feeling every contour of the bottom through the sensitive grunt braid and the ultra slim blank. The rod hooped round and I was into a fish, it stayed deep and dived under the boat with brute power. I now realised this was something really big as I had not seen it yet despite really putting on the pressure. With the pencil thin rod bent double I finally I brought it to the surface where it was netted. This was a lump of just over 26 lb and a new PB.

Tim had avoided the dreaded blank and landed a 14 lb’er which had taken a deadbait at exactly the same time as my battle with the big girl. Steve had also had a jack.


All of this was remarkable considering the conditions and a testament to the productivity of the water. The final cutting edge samples had also proved their worth, these will be released in April.

Winter Barbel Fishing

When I was a kid (and yes, I know what you’re thinking but it wasn’t that long ago!) it was generally accepted that the barbel hibernated in the winter. The standard practise was to fish for barbel in the summer and autumn and then hang the fishing rods up until the following June. Eventually, the thinking changed and we began to realise that not only are barbel a good target in the winter, they are also in their best condition. I think it was fishing on the Severn that persuaded people: a few late autumn matches were won with ‘bonus’ barbel caught by legering a big lump of meat down the edge in a flood. Pretty soon anglers started adopting the same tactic in the winter and hey presto we were suddenlty all year round barbel anglers….

Living as I do near the river I often get the chance to play around with barbel baits and tactics. Many years ago I got a new rod for christmas and I was desperate to try it out so, while my mom was stuffing turkey and the rest of the world was opening presents, I snuck off up the river and nailed my one and only christmas day whisker in less than an hour on a big lump of meat. When you know a river really well such things are possible and so too are endless possibilities to try out new fishing baits and ideas. It was on the Severn, for instance, that I invented the new infamous ‘time bomb’ method using an open ended feeder stuffed with pellet groundbait and boilies/pellets – an approach that has changed the way anglers fish the river irrevocably.

The middle Severn was also the place where I played around with boilies when formulating the amino active CSL boilie that is now a flagship product in the TF-Gear range. Amino Active CSL is basically a commercial version of a home-made boilie I had been using for a number of years to catch barbel. Amino active is one of those rare baits that not only works the first time you use it but carries on getting better the more of it you put in over a period of time. That’s because the base mix (food value) of the boilie is naturally strong whilst the flavour label (an essential oil) is very subtle. It’s my experience with barbel (and other species, actually) that baits heavily laced with flavour never catch fish for very long.

People often ask me how to fish the river barbel given the success of pellets. ‘Have the pellets blown?’ they ask. The answer is yes and no. On the heavily fished stretches of river you can forget about using great big halibut pellets on the hook – the barbel have wised up to them. A few small pellets in the feeder or bag (3-4mm) jobs will help to attract the fish but keep the free pellets at a low level and instead stuff the feeder with a mixture of mini pellets, Crunchy Fish groundbait and broken amino active CSL boilie with the edge nicked off (this releases the subtle aroma that barbel will home in on). Using this combination I feel confident of catching barbel anywhere on stretches of river ranging from easy to difficult.

Of course, no bait will work unless you use it in the right swim and in the right conditions. In winter, the conditions that you are looking for are rising or stable water temperatures with the river temperature at four degrees or more. Don’t worry about the colour – I’ve caught barbel in rivers so dirty that visibality is reduced to just a few centimeters. Quite how the barbel manage to sniff the bait out in chocolate coloured water amazes me sometimes but they do.

New approach for the New year?

When winter pays a visit to the lake I’m fishing, the water almost overnight becomes as clear as glass making me pay some thought to the line on my spools. When choosing line I soon came to realise you have to have a good look around as there are so many to choose from. I’ve been using Xline for some time now and I wanted a change so I decided to look at red mist line from TF Gear.

After a fair amount of research on the product and discovering that red is the first tone to disappear in the colour spectrum, making red mist almost invisible in water, I was more interested in giving it a chance and ordered my sample. When it turned up I was very impressed, a nice smooth silky feel to the line and a good knot hold I soon poured hot water into a bucket and dropped the spool of line in there for 10 minutes, getting rid of any memory in the line. Red may not be the first of choices for a ‘serious’ carp angler and definitely goes against the norm but slowly it is tempting more and more of us into giving it a chance, and why not? Changing your fishing tackle can bring great success.

After being convinced to put my waders on and half freeze to death, during a recent winter session, and stand in the lake for that prize picture I was intrigued as to what kind of temperature the water itself was. This gave me the idea of pinching the ray temp gun out of my husband’s kitchen and having a built in laser it has proven to be extremely accurate in the lake each time I go fishing and more importantly each time I have landed a fish. This is beginning to help me build up a good picture of the year to come and hopefully in time to come help determine the ideal water temperature to catch. I’m sure each lake has its own characteristics and differing reactions to differing water temperatures but never the less spending short periods of time researching a water could pay off greatly in the long run.