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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


Some Exciting Fishing With A Fly Rod

Over the past week I've been able to get out on the banks of the Rivers Ribble and Aire with a quick trip to the Calder. Chub, barbel and pike have been my target fish. The latter fish certainly make a good quarry for the fly rodder. Pike pull the string and bend the stick. Living as I do, close to the River Aire I have a good local venue where I can go and chuck flies for pike. They might not be twenty pounders, but I donít care, 3lbs or 10lbs they offer far better sport than catching stocked rainbow trout from a hole in the ground of a man made fishery which is all artificial. I have nothing against those who do fish these small areas of water, but they are not for me..

Hunting pike, its done mostly by sight fishing, where your casting to a quarry which is often holed up under some over hanging tree or bush with trailing branches. It does give me the chance to practise my fly casting, which has to be spot on. Do it wrong, then your fish will depart in a boil or cloud of silt. There is nothing more exciting than sight casting to fish, and you get the chance to see it savage the fly.

On Monday condition were perfect, I had low gin clear river Aire. Good light conditions and a light breeze. Within twenty minutes of leaving home I'm in the car park pulling on my chest waders and boots. In my bag I have a box of flies, some trace wire, leader material and pliers. I also have Nikon digital SLR camera with a good size flash gun, some sandwiches, a small stove known as a Jetboil, which is perfect for making tea. In my book there is nothing better than being out in the countryside having a fresh brew. Finally I am wearing a long billed Thomas and Thomas cap ( with Polaroid glasses. These latter two items are very important. Without them I wouldnít be able to peer deep into the water as I seek the pike. I consider both to be as important as my rod and reel.The caps can be purchased from the Thomas and Thomas website

Use Strong Well Balanced Tackle

Donít try using those soft action six and seven weight fly rods that so many beginners use. These rods are more like a stick of rhubarb. No wander so many anglers have problems with their casting. Pike are tough fighters, the flies we use are often on 4/0 hooks and bigger. Reservoir rods are useless. You need a nine weight rod. If I am fishing where I expect to hook into fish over 20lbs in rocky or snaggy conditions, I will often use a ten weight rod. My tackle is the best that money can buy. Today I have a 9 foot 4 piece 9 weight Thomas and Thomas Helix rod, matched with an American made Gilmore reel, with a Cortland 9 weight forward floating line with a fifteen foot slow sink tip. Using a needle knot I have attached seven feet of 20lb tapered leader, then using an Albright knot I have tied in a foot of 20lb wire. Do not attempt to fish for pike without a wire trace. In my fly box, I have some Clouser minnows, Lefty Kreh Deceivers, and some Herring patterns tied up on size 4/0 barbless hooks. I have a couple of Poppers, and some small minnow patterns on a size 2 long shank hook.

Its quite surprising how often a fish will ignore a big fly, yet take a small pattern. . My top fly at the present time is without doubt a six inch long eel like patterns tied up on a size 3/0 hook I call these patterns ĎBlack Magicí They are very life like in the water, they are tied with some tungsten beaded eyes which helps give this pattern a super under water action. As you retrieve the fly, it lifts upwards. Before you commence the next strip, the patterns dips down in the water, the tail action is quite stunning. There are days when every pike in the river wants to eat this fly, they just canít resist it. Please note all my fishing is done with barbless hooks.

Look for pike close to weed beds, and under over hanging branches of trees and bushes

Pike love weed, and snaggy areas to lie up in, as they wait for their food to come within range. Look for areas where rubbish has collected, trees that spread there branches low over the river and where side streams flow into the river. Weedy areas and high banks are other areas where you can expect to find pike. I had walked about a hundred yard upriver when I spotted my first fish close to the far bank under some over hanging branches of an alder tree. There was a gap of about a two feet between water and the over hanging branches. The fish probably weighed about 6lbs. I chucked a chartreuse and red pattern Clouser on a 1/0 hook, as the fly was retrieved about a foot in front of the fish, it turned, then slowly followed, eventually I had retrieved all the line. The fish moved away to the centre of the river laying motionless close to the bottom. I made a couple of more casts but still the fish wouldnít grab hold. I tried a white Deceiver then a Minnow pattern. Nothing. I moved on looking for a fish that did really want to eat.

Two hundred yards further upstream I spotted a good fish, tight to the bank, with some over hanging willow bushes as cover. It was a difficult cast, I clipped on a Black Magic then dropped it about a foot from the bushes. I was hoping the fish would move out and take the fly. It didnít move. Kneeling low to the water, I made a parallel cast dropping the fly under the bush. Within seconds the fish turned then grabbed the fly in a very savage manner. With a firm strip strike I set the hook. A very angry fish powered off down river then jumped clear of the water. Then kited into the near bank in the hope of getting the line tangled in some rubbish that had collected. The power of the nine weight Helix soon had the fish under control. I walked downstream taking in line, this pike about six pound wasn't going anywhere. Soon I was taking the fly from fish number one.

A Better Fish

Further upstream I come across a big horse chestnut tree on the far bank its branches reaching out towards the centre of the river. In the past I had caught good fish in this area. The tree was casting a shadow over the water which stopped me from seeing if a fish was in residence. I made a long cast dropping the fly tight to the far bank just in front of the tree trunk. As the fly landed there was a swirl, I spotted a good fish savage the fly. The strike connecting with a good fish which boiled on the surface. I could see it was a double. Suddenly the rod tip was pulled down as the fish moved off upstream very fast. Line was taken off the reel. I had a fight on my hands from a good size river pike. For some five minutes it was give and take, but slowly the well balanced tackle had the fish under control. As the fish was now beaten I waded out into the river where I could grab the fish under the chin, then retrieve my fly before releasing the fish. It was big enough for a picture. After taking out the fly I held it aloft for a picture then watched it swim off strongly for its far bank home. See picture. In the next hour I had four more fish between 4 and 6lbs. It had been a good session.

Next day I was on the River Calder to shoot some pictures, I didnít fish. I had too much work at home. On Wednesday I was on the River Ribble, I chose not too fish my usual spots, I travelled further down river. This was a mistake. I had just one bite. I couldnít strike, I had a mug of tea in one hand and a sandwich in the other. It also sheeted down with rain and after about 4 hours. I called it a day and returned home. Thursday was spent in the studio. Friday I was joined on the River Ribble by Mick Holgate. With minutes of Mick casting out a chunk of crust he had hooked a barbel. It weighed 8-2-0 a personal best for Mick. The rain sheeted down accompanied by a cold blustery wind, today I was using an umbrella for the first time in many years. Conditions were not good but we persevered as I was warm and dry. Despite the atrocious conditions, I did manage to catch a cracking chub weighing in at 6lbs 2 ounces. Saturday the Rivers Calder, Ribble and Aire were bank high, in some places the river had broken over the bank into the fields. I didnít fish. Though I did try to find a swim on the Ribble, but gave up after an hour

Martin James Fishing