Isles of Scilly 2017 (Part 1) – Fly Fishing

Two weeks of holiday in the Isles of Scilly provided the perfect opportunity for a spot of fishing – The weather was changeable throughout the holiday – generally dry with sunny spells although the wind varied between brutally strong to light. Strong winds favoured lure fishing and made fly fishing difficult (See Part 2 for a lure fishing slant). The first real chance to fly fish was on a trip to Tresco. Whilst the Family played on the beach, I explored the north end of the island to shelter from the southerly wind. Used fast sinking 40+ line which cast really well and sunk super fast – much faster than any fly lines I’ve used before. This caused problems when fishing shallower weedy marks but was really good for the deeper areas. Despite all the promise the location held, I had no interest from the fish at all sadly.

The next fly fishing opportunity was whilst fishing the rocks on the east of St Mary’s with lure and fly rod. I mainly used the lure rod and had a lot of success. I did however give the fly rod a reasonably thorough go with various flies and did have a few follows from small wrasse, but frustratingly no takes. Given that the fish were queuing up to attack the soft lures there was no contest as to which method to concentrate on.

With nicer weather forecast for one of the days it finally tempted me to pop out to Penennis Head at dawn to fish the deep water there for Pollack. The wind blowing in an awkward direction however, made things difficult and on top of this my casting was pretty atrocious too – despite this, I had numerous takes on small sparsely dressed sandeel looking flies and landed several small pollack. Just happy to catch something on the fly rod at least.

With the easy fishing and greater success on the lure rod, I found myself reaching for the lure rod rather than the fly rod for the majority of the holiday so didn’t really manage to do as much fly fishing as I had intended. Will have to be a little bit more single minded in future perhaps.

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Thin-Lipped Mullet from River Exe

Chasing mullet on River Exe with Isobel. The water level lower than of late but this could possibly just be a result of the tidal affect on this part of the river rather than low rainfall; I didn’t check the tide times. We were treated to blue cloudless skies and scorching hot sunshine even by 8am in the morning.

Mullet were feeding everywhere along the river in small groups but would scatter as soon as I got near. By sitting quietly on the bank and waiting patiently, the fish would return and continue grubbing around feeding on the river bed allowing me to sneak a cast or two before they would spook again at which point the waiting would have to resume.

As ever, the mullet were frustratingly difficult to tempt with a fly, with fish after fish simply ignoring the flies. I did eventually catch a thin lip mullet on a red tagged dial bach. I cast slightly upstream of the feeding fish and watched the end of the line as the flies drifted down through the feeding fish – a swift 6inch or so movement on the line signalled that one of the fish had grabbed the fly and I lifted the rod to set the hook. The fish put up a very spirited fight on the #5 rod in the shallow water. It was a slightly better fish than my previous one, so I was more than satisfied.. Flushed with success and starting to wilt a bit under the sun, we only fished for about 2 hours before calling it a day. Still – 2 mullet on a fly now proves it isn’t a fluke.

Fly Fishing for Mullet – River Exe

Now mullet as most fishermen will tell you are next to impossible to catch. My experience at casting flies to mullet in my local river, the River Exe have certainly always been hugely frustrating with the fish just ignoring all attempts to entice them. So frustrating when you can see large shoals of big fish almost under your rod tip, so close you can almost scoop them out with a landing net….. If you have a landing net that is.

Today, Isobel and myself took a stroll down the Exe Estuary on the way back from town, not really expecting to catch anything and really only going along to see if we could see any mullet for future expeditions, I travelled light. I took a rod and small bag of tackle whilst Izzy brought a packet of biscuits. There’s a lesson there somewhere about priorities! We left the landing net in the car.

We found shoals of mullet with no difficulty and could even approach right up practically on top of them without them seeming to be bothered in the slightest. Whilst there were the occasional big fish, the majority were small. What they lacked in size they made up for in numbers however. The fish seemed to be actively feeding with tails out of the water at times. Too good to be true it seemed so out when a fly…. and again and again. each time all the fish just ignored the offering.

Mullet fly - red tag diawl bach
Mullet Fly – “Red tagged diawl bach”

Rather than grow frustrated I decided to stick it out and persevere. I switched around between only three different fly patterns, all ones that I’d read were known mullet catchers. Isobel seemed quite content to stand on the bank watching my antics as long as the biscuit supply lasted. So I’d best keep at it I thought.

A brown “Flexi shrimp” pattern drifted downstream through the shoal led to a sudden twitch of the line which I was fairly sure had been a fish taking and rejecting the fly. I didn’t connect with anything.  After fishing on for a while longer I switched to a “red tagged dial bach”. Again, there seemed to be no interest from the fish until again the line twitched and I lifted into my first mullet. I’m not sure which of us was more surprised. An interesting battle ensued – but as long as the hook held I felt confident the fish wasn’t going to be getting away, as given it’s modest size; the mullet was a little out-gunned by the #7 rod and 10lb tippet I was using.. Once the fish seemed docile enough I slide it in close and lifted it out of the water by hand.

Whilst the fish may not be that impressive size wise, it definitely rates as one of my most prized fly caught fish and goes to prove they really are catchable. Inspired now, I’ll be re-visiting the Exe to try for more mullet in the near future. Next time I’ll bring my landing net and a bucket load more confidence.

As for today – the biscuits ran out and we went home.

2017-05-20 River Exe Mullet
Only a small mullet, but a mullet all the same and my first!

2017 – New Years Fishing Resolution

Another fishing year has snuck up on us! 2017 has arrived and like every year, it’s full of promise for the coming months -promise of fish to be caught and fishing venues to be enjoyed. Looking back at last years goals it seems I succeeded to some extent – i.e: to catch more sea fish on the fly, (thanks to my summer holidays on the Scilly Isles). Having said that, other than a single exploratory trip to the Teign Estuary I totally failed to find more saltwater fly fishing venues closer to home – in fact I shamefully didn’t really try… With that in mind my new year fishing resolution for 2017 is to not only do more salt water fly fishing but to explore more and new salty venues with the fly rod. It’ll be interesting to look back this time next year and count up how many venues and different species I’ve managed over the coming year.

So, alongside the usual boat fishing and coarse fishing I just need to find more time to dedicate to SWFF. Easy hey?

Rock Fishing on the Isles of Scilly

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A two week holiday with the family in the Isles of Scilly recently provided the perfect opportunity to brush up on my saltwater fly fishing. I knew my “go to” approach on the rocky marks around the Scillies would inevitably involve lure fishing primarily followed by float fishing, but it made sense to take along the fly rod too. The only other time I’ve caught sea fish on the fly to date has been in the Scillies the year previously, so I knew it was the perfect location if the weather behaved itself.

We were to be taking the Scillonian to the islands, to save money and ensure we wouldn’t struggle with luggage allowances – especially important as alongside my fishing gear I had to bring along wetsuits and towels and all the other beach paraphernalia that a children’s beach holiday entailed. We weren’t looking forward to the journey as the ferry has a well deserved reputation as being vomit inducing even in calm weather given its shallow draft and tendency to roll somewhat. A serious storm on the day we were due to sail led to the boat being cancelled and we were rescheduled for the following day. Thankfully the whole family it seems has good sea legs like myself, and we all successfully braved the roller coaster ride through heavy seas for the 3 hour duration. Many of the other passengers didn’t fare quite so well….

Despite the lost day and delayed start to our trip we were then blessed with pretty good weather for the rest of the fortnight. In amongst the exploring and beach trips, as well as visits to other islands I was fortunate enough to manage to sneak in quite a few fishing sessions even if they were often of a short couple of hour duration.

The main technique inevitably ending up being the lure rod. Being a multi piece travel rod with a nice crisp light action it was not only a pleasure to fish with but easy to carry around when we visited other Islands. Paired with a small fixed spool reel loaded with 15lb braid this made for a really fun set up which I mostly used rigged up with a cone lead, worm hook and jelly worm fished weedless setup. This over the holiday accounted for the vast majority of both pollack and wrasse. None of which were particularly massive but the wrasse especially put a good bend in the rod. Given that most of my sessions during the two weeks were short, I couldn’t justify sitting watching a float for that long, so really didn’t give it much of a go this time, other than to tease out a couple of wrasse on float fished limpet.

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With the jelly worm I tried crushing down the barb on the hook after the first few fish, to make the hook effectively a barbless hook. I use barbless hooks all the time for freshwater fishing and really found it so much easier, quicker and kinder to the fish when unhooking the wrasse in particular. Couldn’t say it resulting in me losing any fish and the benefit of the ease of unhooking really made it a no brainer when lure fishing. Thats not to say I’ll be using barbless hooks for the rest of my sea fishing in future, but for lure fishing where I would expect to be keeping a tight line and generally feeling for a bite, there really seems to be no downside as far as I experienced.

When it came to fly fishing, I had brought my Greys #8 rod – not because I thought I’d need anything that heavy, but more because being a 4 piece rod it was most transportable. That and I didn’t want to ruin any of my other rods / reels on the rocks and salt water. I’d also decided to bring a reel loaded with a shooting head set up. This was to be the first time I’d tried a shooting head and I have to report being really impressed with it – whilst it may of lacked a little finesse it made up for this with the ease with which I could get a reasonable distance. I made the shooting head myself from a mill-end #10 intermediate line, cut down as per instructions found in a quick google search, along with a braided mono running line. For a tippet I just used 6-8 foot of 10lb fluorocarbon. The braided mono running line allowed a nice smooth transition to be formed between fly line and running line. It all seemed to work perfectly well and I have no complaints with it.

We were staying on the main Island, St Mary’s so this was naturally where most of my fishing was done. Whilst we visited all the inhabited islands on day trips with the family, I only fished Bryher and St Martins in addition to the main island of St Marys.

I caught numerous pollack and wrasse, mostly caught on jelly worms but a few wrasse did fall to float fished limpets, when the tide was too low to sensibly lure fish. I found that the wrasse fishing was better in the shallow weedy areas rather than the deeper water rock marks. The pollack were the opposite with deep water being better. Alongside fish on the more conventional tackle, I also had a few fish on fly – mainly pollack but also had a wrasse. I’ve caught pollack on the fly before, but this was my first ever wrasse on a fly! definitely a thrilling catch, especially as I saw it follow the fly in under the rod tip before nailing it. Really exciting in the gin clear water.

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I tried various flies on the fly rod but most successful was a self tied 4” mackerel like fly. This worked for the wrasse and pollack equally well.

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I didn’t catch any really big fish over the holiday, but had pollack to just over 3lb and wrasse to 3.5lb. All good fun on light lure or fly tackle.

In addition to the pollack and wrasse, we did see plenty of very big mullet, some in very large shoals of impressively sized fish. I couldn’t resist casting a few flies to them as they were within range but had no interest at all. Still, worth a go, and it was just too tempting not to cast a fly into a shoal of such big fish even if I didn’t really think there was any chance of hooking any.

My parents also came over to the Scillies for the last week we were there so I had a couple of fishing sessions with my father. We mainly fished Tolman Head near Old Town, for it’s easy access to comfortable fishing and deepish water. Dad had pollack on lures but most interestingly, also had a nice pollack on float fished limpet… not a bait I’d normally associate with pollack fishing but in this case it did the trick. Staying with the float fishing he also had a feisty wrasse on float fished sandeel.

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The scillies has so much potential for rock fishing – miles of deserted coastline and crystal clear water. During this trip I really felt that I’d got to properly explore St Mary’s as well as a fair sampling of the other Islands. There’s still plenty of parts of the various islands I haven’t explored and a massive amount of fishing potential, but at least when I next go back I’ll have a very good idea of places and techniques to focus on.

It was noticeable that this year we did see a few other fishermen – which is a first, as I’d never seen another on any of my other visits to the islands. Maybe it was because we were here longer, or maybe the Scillies are becoming a bit more “on the radar”?

I have to admit that the lure fishing was by far the most productive technique, but really did enjoy the salt water fly fishing and really must endeavour to focus more on it in future. In particular I’d like to try chasing mullet with a little more determination..

Maybe something to aim for next year.

On that note – next years trip to the IOS is booked up – seems a longtime away now, but looking forward to it already.

 

Fly Fishing Teignmouth Estuary

Bank holiday weekend with glorious weather? whats going on with our English seasons? This must be practically unheard of… Anyway, Sunday I’m booked in for a boat trip out of Minehead hopefully after a few smoothhounds so needing a bucket of crabs as bait I headed down to Teignmouth for a short crabbing session. Nothing better than catching fish on free bait.

A few sandeels in a small mesh bag dunked over the edge of the quay near Polly Steps soon resulted in me managing to fill the bucket with hardback shore crabs. Perfect for bait for the smoothhound fishing tomorrow where I’ll be fishing these hardbacks alongside shop bought peeler crab in a comparison test. (For the results of that trip, see here).

After my great success at crab fishing I headed along the Estuary to Flow Point to fish the low water for… well anything that might be around. I took along my #8 fly rod, waders and minimal tackle. Glorious weather and hot sunshine made standing around in a pair of neoprene waders a rather sweaty affair…

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2016-05-28 Teignmouth 4460

I’ve never fished this far up the Teign Estuary before so this was a bit of an exploratory session more than anything else –  a fish would be a bonus. Chatting to one of the locals on the way down it seemed that small school bass would be the most likely quarry.

I arrived at Flow Point at low water and the current was still flowing outwards. Whilst the pictures make it look pretty tranquil, they are really deceiving, and the water flowing past the marker post was doing so at quite a rate. It was around an hour before the build up of incoming seawater was enough to reverse the flow of water. Rather than wander aimlessly along the shoreline I decided to stand on a point (Flow Point I would guess) that would allow me to cast out into a channel of deeper water and hopefully pick up the fish as they passed through.

I did see a few small school bass but sadly didn’t connect with any. I did struggle with casting the #8 rod given that a tendon in my elbow was seriously hurting – and the casting wasn’t improving matters (Is there a fly fishing equivalent of tennis elbow?). Having said that, I managed ok and did half expect to pull up the odd juvenile bass, but it was not to be. Luckily the weather was kind to me and with hardly any wind I could get a reasonable distance with my casts. I’ll need to seriously up my game if I’m to be able to fish this kind of venue with any amount of wind present. Still, a lovely day to be out and it’s all good experience.

Roll on tomorrow’s boat trip! Bring on the hounds…

 

Salt Water Fly Fishing – Bring on the Pollack!

A family holiday to the Isles of Scilly last week, raised the exciting prospect of bagging my first ever saltwater fish on a fly. I’ve fished the Scillies several times before, and each time to great success, but with “traditional” saltwater tackle of spinning rod or float fishing off the rocks. The rocky shoreline of the Scilly Isles is perfect ground for catching wrasse, pollack and mackerel from, and leading up to this years trip I felt supremely confident of some spectacular fishing. As it turned out however things weren’t to be quite what I’d hoped for….

This year we were camping on one of the off islands, St Agnes. The weather sadly threw a spanner in the works from the word go, with very strong winds forecast all week and a smattering of rain thrown in for good measure. Never-the-less I was determined to make the best of things and fish where and when it proved possible.

Upon arrival we set out the tent and made ourselves comfortable, before I decided to have a quick explore during a window in the weather. Hiking out to one of the rocky headlands I promptly slipped and fell before I’d even got near the water. Landing hard and awkwardly on the unforgiving granite boulders, I was initially convinced I’d broken my hand / wrist at which point I slunk back to camp feeling rather sorry for myself – all without having even cast a line. Given that a broken hand would mean a boat ride to the main Island of St Mary’s and would more than likely well and truly ruin the holiday as well as put pay to any fishing to say I was disappointed would of been an understatement. My lovely wife (being a nurse and knowledgeable in these things) after making a few sympathetic noises gave me a couple of paracetamol told me I was fine and to get over it. Anyway – next morning despite a bit of pain it seemed obvious nothing was broken and I would be able to soldier on.

After surviving a couple of days of storms, including 50mph winds and rain, we did have some great weather in the end which necessitated exploring St Agnes, a trip to St Marys and to Brhyer, along with trips to the beaches with the kids. All in all a great family holiday. The last 2 days did see an improvement in the weather and an opportunity between beach & family activities to get away for some fishing. By picking the rocky headlands that were not only sheltered from the wind but also the sea swell, I managed to winkle out a few fish in the end.

Fly Fishing Isles of Scilly Rock Mark

Given the limited opportunity for fishing to date, during my first session rather than experiment with the fly rod, I used the spinning rod and lures to tempt a few small pollack over low water right at dusk. The next session now having had a few fish, I decided to concentrate on the fly rod and returned to where I’d had fish previously but this time armed only with the #8 rod, an intermediate line and extra fast sinking tapered leader. The wind and prevailing swell dictated the choice of fishing location, and a nice rocky outcrop near Beady Pool on the South East of St Agnes gave me a good platform from which to fish, that was sheltered and gave me access to deepish water. I used a couple of different flies but the most successful proved to be a self tied white and mackerel coloured fly of about 2 inches in length. Quite early on in the session I saw a small pollack follow the fly in before turning away but then had no further action for a while. After much perseverance I again saw a shape follow the fly in, and a quick strip of line to make the fly dart forwards, provoked the following fish to rush forwards and grab the fly. It wasn’t a big pollack and was to be fair pretty out gunned on the #8 – but still, after a brief but spirited fight I netted my first ever fly caught sea fish! Mission accomplished.

Fly Fishing Isles of Scilly Pollack

With light fading fast and the family waiting for me back at the tent I called it a day. I’ve proved to myself it can be done and have now opened up a whole host of further fly fishing opportunities to go alongside the fresh water species. On top of this, I really did feel pretty comfortable with my casting in the windy conditions which should bode well for the future.

Fly fishing – so, where to start?

I’ve been sea and coarse fishing my whole life. I go out boat fishing around the south west coastline every month as well as exploring the rivers, canals and lakes that are on offer in Devon & Somerset whenever I have the opportunity. Now in my 40s I’d consider myself sufficiently skilled with a fishing rod to not embarrass myself in front of onlookers and fellow anglers – unless I’m trying to fly fish that is….

I recently bought myself a couple of fly rods and have been enthusiastically waving them round for the last few months. Enthusiastically is probably the most flattering thing I can say about my efforts as well. Alright, with a couple of young kids I can only sneak away every now and again, and haven’t been able to devote that much time to fly fishing, but still – I’ve come to realise I’ve got a long way to go to get to the level of accomplishment I’d like to attain. I won’t be concentrating solely on fly fishing either – I’m still out on the boats sea fishing every month, along with the odd bit of coarse fishing, and can’t see that changing in the near future. The fly fishing will have to fit in around everything else. Not ideal I know, but there’s just not enough hours in the day!

Having just starting out in fly fishing and not wanting to break the bank, I’ve got myself an Airflo Delta #5-6 rod for coarse fish and trout along with a Greys GS2 #8 rod for pike and saltwater. A couple of ‘economical’ reels loaded with weight forward line completes the selection. We’ll see how it goes and upgrade if & as necessary.

To date my fly fishing has mainly consisted of targeting coarse fish on ponds and canals to varying degrees of success, along with the occasional trip after stocked trout.. Again with limited success. I’ve had chub up to just under 3lb and carp around 9lb on the fly rod, along with a smattering of rudd, roach & perch so to my mind I’ve have been doing ok. Granted, as with all fishing, there’s the occasional blank but I have managed to catch fish every now and again!

One area I have completely and utterly failed at, is catching a pike on the fly. It’s not through lack of trying either sadly. I’ve caught plenty of pike over the years on dead baits, live baits, plugs and any manner of lures, but just cannot seem to do the business with a fly rod. In fact my Greys GS2 #8 fly rod I’ve been using on the local canals for pike has yet to be christened with any fish whatsoever! shocking really considering the number of times it’s been aired.

As for tackling the salt water with a fly – I’ve just not even tried yet but it is definitely on my ‘to do list’ for 2015 – although I’ll look to invest in a pair of waders before then.

Looking critically at my efforts to date, it’s easy to see a pattern – most my fishing is on small ponds and canals where there is no need to cast too far. Being self taught, I’ve no doubt picked up lots of bad habits that need ironing out at some stage. I can just about get by on these small venues where poor casting technique can get me by, but can definitely see the need for proper lessons in the very near future.

We all need something to aim for right? So, the immediate target – Get some casting lessons ASAP!

Target for end of 2014?  – Christen the #8 rod, preferably with a pike.

Target for 2015? –  get off the mark with some saltwater species. Bass, Pollack, Mackerel & Wrasse.

Coarse Fish on Fly