How to begin this, my last blog post of the year with anything but … where the hell did the year go? It seems like only last week that the Exe Valley fishery was 3ft under water (22nd Dec 2012 to be precise) and the mass escape of Rainbows from various local fish farms took place. Soon afterwards anglers began to fill their boots with all the escapees as the EA granted a special out of season licence to mop up these non native fish. Much controversy was to follow, as per my blog posts here, here & here.
How fitting that pretty much a year to the day we have once again been experiencing extreme weather conditions, although this time it seems to be the wind giving us a pasting and although water levels are high, thankfully in the immediate locality flooding has been minimal in comparison with December last year.
Which I suppose leads me quite nicely into the polar opposite conditions that then took over our summer. It was a belter wasn’t it?! In fact it was so hot at times that I began running courses from very early morning, a great time to be by the water with the sun rising and only shorts and a T Shirt required. A blessed release from the layers of under wader wear and even gloves that I had to continue clambering into for guiding right into May. Wasn’t it about the coldest beginning to the season that you can ever remember? Put it this way … I think certain parts may have shrunk a bit (more)!!!
So extreme wet, then cold and finally a summer we can be proud of. But of course as anglers we are never truly happy with the conditions and none more so than those of us who can’t get enough of that electric feeling when a Salmon takes hold of the fly. In short the runs were very poor indeed, so much so that some beats had not a single fish to their name.
The magnificent Lyn was encouraging fish to run but sadly in a cruel twist many of these visitors made their last journey covered in fungus, a very sad sight and of course the only fitting thing to do was close the river to Salmon & Sea Trout anglers. The wild Trout fishing continued but somehow after seeing so many of the magnificent migrants inflicted with such a debilitating disease I could not bring myself to guide regularly on what is still one of my favourite rivers in the world.
As is so often the case if one venue is not firing another will suddenly find form and this year there is no doubt that our stretch of the River Mole came into its own. Not so much for the migratory fish, the low water conditions left most of them skulking in the Taw estuary at the mercy of predators & nets, but instead it was the wild Trout fishing which was so impressive. In fact the Mole produced the best Brown of the year to Stuart Cowley on a Retirer Sedge, fished over a deep pocket on yet another scorcher of a summer’s day. I don’t spend a lot of time measuring fish and certainly not weighing them but anyone who fishes the West Country knows this is a specimen and I think you can see by Stuarts smile that he knows it to!
This was the best fish but there were others that were very close and on all but one trip to the venue we either landed or lost better than average size Trout of 10” to 14” with plenty of plump 8 inchers offering great sport on light tackle. We even had one particularly feisty Brown cough up a bull head! So a great season on the Mole which also produced the only Salmon of the year or a Grilse to be precise, to regular guest Jon Hettle. After travelling to the Wye to help Jon with his Spey casting during the early part of the season we had hoped to enjoy several days of Salmon fishing, but the low water stuffed up our plans … until Jons last visit in September. A tiny spate inspired me to fix up a 10’ #7 single hander with a Rio Midge Tip, long leader and a size 14 micro Salmon fly and against the odds during the worst Salmon season for over 20 years this little Grilse became Jons first ever migratory fish on fly. It just goes to show that sometimes your fly really does need to be in the water!
Unfortunately as much as I believe in this well used saying for the most part it was hopeless to expect anything more than a decent suntan from a day spent Salmon fishing in the West Country during 2014, so much so that I lost close to a month’s worth of bookings. But that is the nature of my business although sometimes guests will try out something new if their first choice is unrealistic. Bass are what I am talking about of course!
I have always enjoyed fishing for and guiding this species on fly but it is during my last few seasons targeting them with lures and in particular on the surface that I have found a new passion. It may not be that I have grown up with this method but let’s be honest it is hardly difficult is it! So in 2013 I began to head to the coast with both fly & lure tackle in the hope that clients disappointed by the lack of Salmon may enjoy another kind of silver. Most of the fish we encountered on fly were typically small but there was no doubt that clients prepared to give the lures a bash might just sort out the better fish. It may not be fly fishing but I really enjoyed adding this new aspect to my day to day guiding and although my clients didn’t land anything over 5lb we did have opportunities to cast at much bigger fish and on one occasion a very large fish managed to spit our Salt Skimmer! However although big fish make great pictures it’s not all about size, seeing those fish smash bits of plastic on the surface has me giggling like a school kid every time … even if it is my guest cranking the reel.
What else can I say about 2013? Well to be honest I have only just got started. So many good people, great conversations, debates, highs, lows and of course, farm shop pasties, scotch eggs, gallons of water & bucket loads of sunblock. Plus a few leaders and of course the odd fly or two!!! There has been no doubt that in many respects the weather has played an enormous part, making life on the water tough at times, but that is what makes guiding so interesting. Its different everyday! In fact I got to spend a total of 98 days out there this year which would have been nearer to 130 had it not been for the low water and lack of Salmon. It’s my main excuse for not maintaining my blog as regularly as I should but Hey if I am in here writing about fishing rather than guiding or teaching I figure that possibly something is going badly wrong.
So BIG thanks to all of you who have ensured that I have once again reached the end of the season with a set (in fact 2 sets!) of burnt out waders. It’s a terrible shame because of course it means I will have to go and get a new set and low & behold would you believe it Simms are bringing the G4 Boa Wading Boot & Vapor Lightweight Boot with Megagrip (how cool does that sound!) to market this year! Not to mention the Slick Jacket … therefore I am afraid it would be impossible to make or keep any new year’s resolutions about reducing my homage to Bozeman, Montana! Would you believe I actually had to get a wardrobe for my Simms gear this year? It is definitely not a problem, addiction or obsession … it’s just dedication.
I hope you had a great Christmas, have an even greater start to 2014, clear some time in your diary to go fishing and if you do get stuck in the office then I will do my best to improve on my paltry 26 posts in 2013 … although that could all depend on if the diary continues to fill as quickly as it is at the moment. Happy New Year!