Friday, 28 August 2009

Ardbeg...Peat, Smoke and Unfeasibly Large Cakes

Every distillery on the Isle of Islay is situated amid breathtaking scenery. All except one, sit more or less on the sea shore. A reminder of times when barley came in with the Clyde Puffers, and the casks full of spirit or whisky would leave for the mainland in these wee boats.

If the Scotch whisky industry launched a competition for the best view from a distillery window, an Islay distillery would win it, whether it be the view of the Paps of Jura from either Bunnahabhain or Caol Ila, Loch Indaal from Bowmore or Bruichladdich, or over the rock pierced stretch of sea from Ardbeg. I believe that casks of whisky that lie maturing in the many dunnage warehouses on Islay, benefit greatly from the sea spray filled air around them, the spirit taking on some of this character, and once in the glass, telling the imbiber a little about it's past. 

Ardbeg, established in 1815, the same year as Laphroaig and the Battle of Waterloo, has become famous for producing a heavily peated spirit. Years ago, barley was malted in these buildings, now the visitor centre and Cafe, offering a range of Ardbeg goodies including the amber nectar itself, clothing, postcards, books, warming soup....and lots of massive cakes.

The water source for both cooling and mashing comes from Loch Uigeadail away up in the hills. 

In 2005, Richard Jones, Steve Birch, Tim Williams and I decided to walk up there, and we set off with a map, some butties and a few miniatures of various expressions from Ardbeg.

There was no clearly defined path, and after a short while, we began to loose our way, all arguing over which might be the best way to head.

Eventually we arrived at the Loch and we were surprised at how big and very dark it was. A few miniatures of Ardbeg 17 year old were consumed, and one was poured into the Loch, a custom among walkers who make the journey. We made our way back through the deserted plague village of Solum, where a whole community was lost to the disease, arriving just in time to be taken on a tour at the distillery.

Ardbeg has one of the smallest mash tuns on Islay. Typically the mash is 4.5 tonnes which happens ten times per week. The washbacks are traditional Oregon pine. Fermentations are relatively slow because the high peat content inhibits the yeast.

The wash still is not the smallest on the island but it is very dumpy and of lamp glass design, with a gently ascending lyne arm and an external condenser. Copper interaction or reflux, is being promoted here with plenty of contact between the fibrous metal and liquid.

The spirit still is also of lamp glass design. Here, the character of Ardbeg's spirit is shaped through reflux promoted by a additional feature, not present at any of the other Islay distilleries. The spirit still has been fitted with a purifier that hangs on the underside of the lyne arm with a pipe leading back down to the belly of the still. For the first hour and a half of the spirit run, it is the lighter alcohols that make the journey up the inside of the still and lyne arm to be collected in the spirit safe. Later on, the heavier alcohols become more apparent, these travel up the inside of the still and start to travel on the floor of the lyne arm but reach the purifier and are sent back down to be re distilled, so only the lighter alcohols remain in the spirit. This process results in a new make spirit that retains the smoky phenols whilst being incredibly light, fruity and floral.

Ardbeg produces around 950,000 ltrs of spirit per year. This compares to Bruichladdich at around 320,000 ltrs and Caol Ila at around 3 million ltrs so by no means the smallest producer, and not the biggest. There is storage on site for 24,000 casks in 5, mainly traditional dunnage warehouses. (Dunnage warehouses being the old style with earthen floors, maturation benefiting from the damp atmosphere that is promoted there).

50% of the casks filled at Ardbeg are first fill bourbon barrels and the rest are mainly second fill bourbon and a few ex sherry and wine casks. There are still a few amazing sherry butts in the warehouses but much of the Oloroso has gone and it is the fino and manzanilla casks that are now coming through.

Ardbeg 10 year old is among the best of the entry point malts. It is very pale in colour. There is much smoky peat and citrus fruit on the nose, following through on the palate with a very long citrusy finish.

Ardbeg 17 year old can still be found, although it costs at least £150 per bottle. Sherry notes are much more noticeable.

Recent bottlings of Ardbeg have commanded very high prices with drams from the early 1970's ranging from £300 to £1000 per bottle. Moet Hennessy, the distillery's owners, have launched edition after edition including a gun case containing two vintages from the 1970"s which retails at £10,000. Beware peat fans, some more recent bottlings like "Blasda" are not peaty. The whisky for these unpeated bottlings comes from casks marked "Ardbeg Kildalton". These casks are usually ear marked for the blended market. If you find an old bottle of Ardbeg in your cupboard, check it out with a whisky retailer first, it could be worth a fortune...if you do drink it however, you will never be disappointed, old Ardbeg's always seem to be the biz.

A visit to Islay is not complete without a tour of Ardbeg, a bowl of soup, a big cake, a natter with Jackie and a large dram of Ardbeg 10. Sign up to the Committee and you will be updated with events and new bottlings

If you're interested in finding out more about Ardbeg, the other Islay distilleries and Islay itself, I would recommend you get a copy of "Peat Smoke and Spirit" by Andrew Jefford, and arm yourself with a bottle from each of the 8 distilleries.....available at all good whisky shops in Russell Street, Leek.



Friday, 21 August 2009

A Sign of the Dovedale

Well, I could resist no longer...I've been fishing up at Milldale for the last couple of outings and I thought it was time I fished the first section at Dovedale...I fancied a nice, slow chill out session without having to walk too far, and so, at about 6.15pm I arrived at the car park at Dovedale.

There weren't as many cars as usual, the weather was bright but very breezy. I think this cold snap had put a few folk off. The first thing I noticed was the new sign that had been erected, please click on the pic to appears some new rules are in place.

Anyway, I was looking forward to the fishing. I had my last LTD emerger pattern in my box and selected it as my first fly. It was very breezy, luckily in the right direction and I made my first cast into the pool upstream of the footbridge....bump, fish on, a lovely pounder. I was chuffed to bits to have landed one so early. I knew this fly was going to do the biz again for me tonight.

I only had an hour or so, so I quickly fished up the fast stretches. I had a cast into the large pool half way up and connected with this lovely wee troot....again on the LTD. It gave me a right scrap.

Conditions were great, apart from the wind, and I was surprised at how many rises there were given the cold air. There were quite a few hatches though, brought on by the heavy downpours we'd had in the afternoon perhaps.

There wasn't a great deal happening in the nursery pool and I decided to walk straight past it given the time restraints, it's far too easy to see a fish there and waste much of your time trying to fool it in the slow water when you could be catching upstream.

I headed up past the trees and fished under the far bank. I had a take immediately and the fish was off like a rocket and kept making spectacular leaps into the air, until, eventually, I lost him. I tried a few feet upstream and quite soon I had a take and I landed this lovely brownie. I tried a couple of other flys but they weren't interested, only the LTD would'd definitely doing the biz at the moment.

What a great night's fishing, three lovely brownies in an hour and a half. Another confidence booming session.



Thursday, 20 August 2009

Milldale with Guy, Katie and The Wincle Waller

What a cracking day. As I opened the curtains yesterday morning, it appeared that summer had arrived, at last, in Leek. I needed no more reason to pack up my waders, rod, a couple of fly boxes, the Kelly, and some fine local ale, and bundle it into the back of the van, ready for me to head off straight from work that evening.

I'd been in touch with Guy (Orvisfan on the forum), and he too was itching to get out fishing, after a long period away from the rivers. We agreed that Milldale might be a nice spot on a lovely (although a little muggy) summer's evening and so we met in Ilam at 6pm and Guy, Katie (my daft Flat Coated Retriever) and I made our way to the river.

After fishing with Gary on the Manifold on Monday night, I thought I'd set up with the same rig just to see how I got on, so I had a Balloon Caddis on a dropper and a very small pheasant tail nymph on the point. There were absolutely no rises to be seen at first so I thought I had made the right choice of flies. I dropped into the river near the start of the LADFFA stretch and dropped a fish after a couple of casts. As we fished down the river, I found that I was getting snagged so changed to a dry fly.

I bumped into another angler who had fished his way up from Ilam Rock, saying that he had found the fishing hard but had managed a few fish, he also mentioned that he had seen very few rises. It was clear that, although we hadn't much time on our hands due to fading light, we'd have to put best foot forward and find some rises, if we wanted to stand any chance of catching this evening.

Eventually, after passing some favourite spots and still seeing no rises, we arrived at Ilam Rock, where there were indeed some very shy rises. I made a few casts but couldn't tempt any fish with my JT olive. Guy had spotted some rises upstream of the footbridge and so I decided it was time to unleash  a recent favourite...the LTD (aka "The Sedge Youth"), but this time an emerger variant. I saw a rise and made a cast a few feet upstream of it....a couple of seconds past...had I put him down?....a made another cast and mended my line....bang...he was on. A nice Brown Trout of around a pound. I was chuffed to bits to have caught in such difficult conditions.

We'd reached the point where, if we wanted to fish the boards, we'd have to leave in order to get ten or so minutes in before having to return in the dark. We made our way to the boards, both remarking how it was eerie among the trees and mist.

There was a cool breeze. The fish were rising underneath the branches on the far bank. I didn't want to cast from the boards as I knew I would get snagged and so dropped into the river downstream and waded up the middle. I was surprised to see a huge Grayling only a few feet in front of me who didn't seem at all bothered about my presence.

I made a couple of casts to what I thought was a big fish, and after a wee while, hooked this small but beautiful wildie...again on the sedge.

As I waded up the river I noticed that there was a missive draft of warm air coming down the valley. I mentioned this to Guy but he hadn't noticed it as he was on the boards. As we were walking back to Milldale though, there was a huge draft of warm air, and Guy remarked that it was akin to being in the Med of a summer's evening.

We'd had a great night, had a good chat about angling and such, and caught a few fish between us. We'd spent more time walking than fishing, but sometimes that's what you have to do if rises are few and far least it gives you the reason to be in such an amazing place.

After so much walking and the warm conditions, a beer would be required on our return to our homes, so Guy pointed his van Penkridge way, armed to the teeth with a bottle of "Wincle Waller", a beer that always hits the spot.

The Wincle Brewery set up about 12 months ago and can't make enough beer to keep up with demand. They have a range of beers including "Wincle Waller", a light session ale perfect for summer, and the most popular "Undertaker", a more serious dark ale. All available at good drinks retailers in Russell Street, Leek.

Another great evenings angling in good company. 

Cheers Guy.


Monday, 17 August 2009

Two different styles of fishing in 24 hours

Sunday - Milldale to Dovedale With Johnny C.

My confidence has continued to grow recently as I seem to be attracting more takes and landing more fish. I'm putting this down to two things. Firstly, that I'm lucky enough to be getting quite a few fishing sessions in, and secondly, and I think more importantly, I'm fishing with some quality anglers, and picking up some best practice along the way. Fishing with (mar mate) Glen has improved my confidence no end, I can rely on him to tell me straight if he thinks I'm doing something wrong. I've also been lucky enough to fish with a few others, who have also been good enough to lend a few tips to this relatively new comer to fly fishing. Thanks to Mick, Johnny and Gary.

I began fishing at  the age of 6 and apart from my first few years, I've never had so much help available to me. The world of the interweb, blogs and forums means that the modern angler is never more than a tap and a click away from a little advice. If you'd have told me, when I was a kid that in years to come we'd have been arranging to meet other fisherman, who we didn't know, via a computer, I'd have laughed so much that I'd have shared my fags. .

The last couple of days have been no exception. On Sunday afternoon, I was to meet up with Johnny (Colemans on the forum). I dropped my car off at Dovedale car park, and Leonie ran me upto Milldale, on a promise of lunch at The Watts Russell Arms (fantastic piece of lamb but a little expensive), followed by ice-creams all round in Milldale.

Johnny and I tackled up and we wandered down to the river. Conditions looked good. The river had dropped and was running pretty clear. We wondered how the weather would affect things as the air temperature was lower than of late and there was a cool breeze. We dropped into the river and fished the fast sections. I was gutted as I dropped a good Grayling, how my confidence would have been lifted if I'd landed that one so early in the day. The first hour or so was hard.

We bumped into Matt and Clive who were fishing their way up from Ilam Rock to Milldale. They had been fishing and camping all weekend and had clearly had a great time. Clive, a complete newcomer to angling had landed a fair few fish and was absolutely buzzing. (Quite literally after a nasty incident with a wasps nest).

We started to see a few rises at Doveholes and Ilam Rock, and from here on, we started to take fish. Johnny had a nice wild fish at the boards which gave him a fair old scrap. At one point, Johnny was casting at the upstream and of the boards and I, from the downstream while I was talking to some walkers about the fishing. I don't know how we managed it, and probably would never be able to choreograph it again, but as we casted in absolute opposite direction, we hooked each others line on the backcast, much to the amusement of those who watched, who must have thought we were a right pair of clowns.

We made our way down towards the Nursery Pool as the light began to fade and talked about all things piscatorial. I enjoy fishing with Johnny, he has a very relaxed style. He often takes a break and is just content to watch what is going on. I think I should do this more often, chill out a bit and read the river whilst not concentrating on casting too much. To me, angling is at least as much about the location and the socialising as it is about catching the fish, and I think Johnny would concur.

We came across a pool where the were quite a few fish rising, and between us, we managed to land a few fish using the LTD sedge (youth) and JT Olives (please see right hand panel for pic of one of the brownies we caught there). Considering the conditions, we'd had a good day landing a fair few fish between us.

Monday - The Manifold downstream from Brund Mill with Gary

I've been pestering Johnny, Mick and Gary, to get me on to some of the Derbyshire County Angling Club waters. They've all offered me guest tickets but the first opportunity I got was to be yesterday on the river Manifold just downstream of Brund Mill with Gary (Fishcake on the forum).

I met Gary at about 3pm and we made our way up towards Sheen. It was quite a bright and warm day, and the first thing I noticed when we got out of the car was the abundance of fly life. Gary had suggested that we fish this stretch of the Manifold because it would demand a different approach, a different style of fishing than I have previously been used to on the Dove. I think Gary wanted to get me out of my comfort zone a little bit, to give me a challenge, remarking a couple of times that If I could start to manage to catch fish in waters like this one, it would improve my performance and approach to my fishing at my usual haunts. Gary set me up with light tackle, fishing a Balloon Caddis on a very short dropper with a tiny tungsten headed pheasant tail nymph on the point.

Much stealth was required when approaching this narrow river...much more stealth that is than the huge herd of horned bullocks that charged towards us at one point. To say that it put me off my casting is a little of an understatement. Smell it? I was sitting in it.

We made our way upstream and I was surprised at how many rises there were. Fishing was really close in, there was little need to cast, more of an overhead flick was required....usually resulting in a tangle in a tree on my part...I must thank Gary for his patience..If I'd have been him I'd have disappeared into the distance under a speech bubble full of expletives after the first few times.

Gary wanted me to catch, to show me what this small river had to offer. After a while, I managed to present my fly under some overhanging branches and I had a take. It was very exciting. In a small river like this, the fish fight like hell. It gave me a real sense of achievement when I landed my first wild Manifold brownie. Gary is a great angler. Quite precise, he reads the water well. He has spent much time observing other anglers and taking it all in. He fishes a swim in a very patient way, covering every part of it systematically.

This had been an great afternoon's fishing, between us landing a fair few wild brownies. It is a completely different style of fishing, demanding stealth and precision. It's more tiring too because of the amount of walking and climbing that you are doing, to get to the swim where you think the brownies are hiding. All this though, makes it so rewarding when you catch that first fish. 

Cheers Gary for a great experience. David.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

"Westering Home" to Bunnahabhain

Those who read my previous whisky related post will be fully aware of my high regard for the Isle of Islay in the Hebrides and the fantastic whiskies that are made there. I visited for the first time in February 2005 with a group of customers and I've visited on average, once every eight weeks since then. I love Islay...and I have a windscreen sticker to prove it. (Its ok, I haven't stuck it on my windscreen....yet)

If it wasn't for Islay whiskies, I probably wouldn't drink whisky now, come to think of it, I probably wouldn't own a whisky shop. I first started to take interest in whiskies after a tasting hosted by Morrison Bowmore Distillers, who also kindly accommodated me on my first visit to the island. If it wasn't for Islay whiskies, I wouldn't be a fly fisherman, David Morris, mashman at Bunnahabhain Distillery, taught me how to cast and accompanied me on my first visits to Loch Ballygrant, Loch Gorm, Loch Finlaggan and Loch Inver on the Isle of Jura.

Mention Islay malts and people assume you are talking about peaty and medicinal whiskies, quite often comparing their flavours to TCP, and yes, there are some great whiskies that do have these characteristics that are produced on Islay. The truth is that most distilleries on Islay do produce that kind of spirit, some as a larger percentage of their output than others. Ardbeg 10 year old, Laphroaig 10 year old, Bowmore 12 year old, Caol Ila 12 year old, Lagavulin 16 year old are all peaty, smoky whiskies. 

There are three other distilleries on Islay, Kilchoman, which produces a peated spirit but is a new distillery so it's product hasn't quite reached the market yet, Bruichladdich, which produces both peated and non peated spirit, the latter tending to be the house style, and Bunnahabhain, which produces more non-peated spirit than any other distillery on the Island. 

If you look carefully, at the back of this pic, you can see the snow covered mountains on the Isle of Mull.

Bunnahabhain Distillery was built in 1881, the same year as Bruichladdich, the two events completely unrelated. Its location is simply stunning, situated in the very North East of the Island over looking the Sound of Islay and on to the Isle of Jura, Colonsay and the Isle of Mull. The waters hereabouts are very dangerous and many ships have sank in the locality over the years. The Wyre Majestic, a fishing boat from Fleetwood in Lancashire is still visible on the rocks today.

When visiting the distillery, you arrive having driven up the 4 mile track from the little village of Keills, passing Persabus, Torrobus and Loch Ardnahoe on the way. You also get a glimpse of Rhuvaal Lighthouse to the North and Loch Inver on Jura to the West. On a clear day, the view over the Sound to the Paps of Jura is stunning. It's hard to believe that, these days, every grain of barley travels up this road in huge wagons and every drop of whisky travels back down the road in the massive Carntyne wagons. The road is new. Right up until the early eighties, the Glasgow puffer boats arrived on the beach with the barley and went away with casks of spirit. It was a hard, labour intensive job.

This picture shows the beach in front of the distillery where the boats arrived. The jetty is used by local fishing boats. The workers cottages at the far end of the beach are now holiday lets and it is where we stay if we are taking customers to Islay. The warehouses on the right are the bonded filling store and warehouse number 7.

The sea was the reason that everything at Bunnahabhain Distillery was built on a massive scale. In long periods of rough weather (which happens a fair bit in the Hebrides), the boats couldn't get in with the barley. The capacity of storage and for production therefore had to be larger than usually required at a distillery so that production could continue. 

The malt bins have the capacity to store 900 tonnes of barley, where usually 100 tonnes would suffice. The grist hopper holds 32 tonnes of grist. The mash is a 13 tonne mash, the biggest on Islay. Usually, during the mashing in process, the mashman sprays 3 batches of water at an increasing temperature on to the grist (milled malted barley) in the mash tun to extract sugars on which the yeast will later feed and produce alcohol as a by product. At Bunnahabhain, 4 waters are used because of the size of the mash. In fact, so much water is required that the distillery has 2 water sources, water for cooling and cleaning comes from Loch Stoisha up in the hills towards Finlaggan and the production water, that ends up in the spirit, comes from the Margadale Springs and is piped to the springs straight out of the granite rock.

Bunnahabhain has six huge traditional Oregon pine washbacks. The two pairs of stills have the largest capacity on the island. This pic shows a wash (or low wines) still in the foreground and a spirit still at the back.

These large and very tall stills ran very slowly promote a good amount of interaction between copper and spirit. This is a process called reflux and has a massive influence on the final spirit and ultimately, the house style of the whisky. If a stillman fills the spirit still to capacity and runs it very quickly. He will end up with a very heavy spirit...the less he fills the still and the slower he runs it, the lighter spirit he will achieve.

Bunnahabhain's new make spirit is the best I've ever nosed and has a really good starting point, even before it has been filled in to casks to mature.  The majority of the 21,000 casks on site are ex Bourbon Hogsheads, traditionally though, a good amount of ex sherry butts and puncheons (like the one in the pic) have been used, and it is these casks that tend to produce the very best of whiskies from Bunnahabhain, as anyone who has tasted the 18 year old expression will agree.

There are eight warehouses at Bunnahabhain, number eight is the first one you see when you arrive at the distillery, it's the large racked one on top of the hill. All the others are down on the seashore. These are dunnage warehouses, i.e. they have earthen floors. When a storm gets up, the atmosphere in these warehouses is full of the sea. The casks are designed to breath, maturation is a slow, controlled oxidation of the spirit within. This sea air plays its part in determining the final character of the whisky. 

Recently, Bunnahabhain 12 year old (see pic at top of post) has been marketed as "The Gentle taste of Islay" and it is. We sell cases of it in our shop because it is easy to drink but full of character, and is a perfect gift because it is so light in style. Bunnahabhain does produce a heavier peaty whisky too though...since 1997, for four weeks every year a peated spirit has been produced and of late it has started to appear on the market. 

We have managed to purchase a cask of heavily peated Bunnahabhain we have now bottled it under our own Queen of the Moorlands Rare Cask label. This bottling is limited to only 82 bottles. The whisky is completely natural and has been bottled straight from the cask without commercial colouring or any chill filtration.. I recommend that you put a fire in, sit in your favourite chair, open a bottle and stand well is a monster, both in peat and alcohol (60.2%). This whisky will sell very quickly...get in touch if you would like to reserve a bottle..or two. It is £59.99 per bottle.

Dave "The Squire" Cross sent me these notes:

"We had a prop forward called Cheeks who held up the loose head side of the scrum for over a decade. Cheeks didn't put in that many tackles but when he did they were good un's. Once we were somewhere in Lincolnshire in February with an easterly wind coming straight off the steppes, Cheeks tackled a guy so hard the poor sods boots came off.
1997 Bunnahabhain Single Cask is a bit like Cheeks' tackles; opportunities are few and far between but when they arise you are likely to end up firmly on your harris. At a full 60.2% cask strength this is a monster of a whisky but its appearance belies that, it is very pale and innocuous. Just goes to show that looks can be deceiving. I found that the flavours in this dram benefit from a tad of water, not too much mind. This really brings out the flavours and makes my imagination run wild. It takes me onto one of the lochs gently casting my flys for a wild Islay brownie. I can taste the sea and smell the peat.
This is another belter from Queen of the Moorlands and highly recommended. Make sure your boots are done up tight mind."

Bunnahabhain has always been a fisherman's dram, as you will gather from the traditional Hebridean rhyme that, until recently, was printed on the label of the bottle.

Westering home and a song in the air
Light in the eye and it's goodbye to care
Laughter o' love and a welcoming there
Isle of my heart my own one.

Tell me o' lands of the Orient gay
Speak o' the riches and joys of Cathay
Ay but it's grand to be wakin' at day
To find yourself nearer to Islay.

Where are the folk like the folk o' the west
Canty and couthie and kindly the best
There I would hie me and there I would rest
At hame wi' my ain folk on Islay.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Ye Olde River Dove settles into fine fishing Russell Crowe leaves Pointon's Glen

That's it, that's all the excitement we're getting, Mr Crowe has gone and the only clue that Robin Hood and his slightly Merry Men were anywhere near Dovedale this week is the several piles of horse poo, a-steaming in the breeze. The weather has settled and my favourite river, Ye Olde River Dove, is beginning to relax a little....and the fish are loving it too.

This week, I have accomplished a first for my angling CV, by the end of this evening's session I will have fished every night out of the last five, it's been an invaluable learning experience. The weather and river conditions have been different every day, and the fish have adjusted accordingly. I've found that it's no good expecting that the spot that fished well yesterday, will fish well today. So it has forced me to explore new swims, and new techniques, and to walk for miles, quite literally, up and down dale.....I'm knackered.

I met Glen in the early evening and we decided to head off up to the mid section. Glen missed out on all the excitement of the filming on Tuesday night, and was desperately hoping that "Crowwwweeeeey!!!" would still be there, sitting on his horse at the top of Pointon's Glen, waiting to "av the crack" with him...but it was not to be...he was gutted.

I wanted to walk up as far as Ilam Rock so we set about it, walking as fast as we could, it's always further than you think to get up to that section and you should allow at least 30 minutes from the car park. We spotted loads of good fish on the way up but did well to resist all temptation to cast to them. 

The Kelly was filled from the spring at the top of the boards, lit and we rested for a while, consuming our butties and unfeasibly large pork pies, Glen reminding me how much the fish would be "having it" during the evening to come.

A short while later we arrived at Ilam Rock and the fish were rising readily. I fished on the downstream side of the bridge and immediately began to take fish on the emerger variant of the LTD. I had three fish in fifteen minutes, and as far as I was concerned, if I didn't catch again all night, I'd still be over the moon, my confidence continuing to grow.

Glen was also finding that the fish were feeding well, hungry after the recent weather, the river having been so high and coloured, and he took quite a few fish in the first half hour.

We fished our way back to the ford and stopped at the boards where we encountered fish feeding on a massive hatch and there were rises everywhere. We were also taking fish from quite a few spots where they were rising under the over hanging branches, all the while mindful of what might be happening further downstream at the Nursery Pool, scared of what we might be missing.

As the light faded we reached the Nursery Pool where there was a few rises but nothing like what we had witnessed further upstream. The flow was incredibly slow and there just wasn't much going on. 

The Kelly was lit once again, and the week's fishing discussed. It has been a great experience for me, to be able to compare and contrast the conditions and fishing on a day to day basis. I've realised that I need to be less formulaic in my fishing style and that I must approach each session and swim with an open mind and to try to read the conditions a little better. 

I think I'm up to about 27 fish so far this week, but if that return was nil I would still have loved every minute of it...who wouldn't when angling in Dovedale.


Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Russell Crowe and I, "Living the Dream" in Dovedale

No two fishing sessions are ever the same. There is always some occurrence, some event that makes each outing unique and my last one was no exception.....I got to fish with a star...well...sort of.

Last night, Russell Crowe and I popped down to Dovedale. Russell arrived by helicopter, and I by LDV Convoy 400. We each had our own agendas, Russell to film part of a new blockbuster film, Robin Hood, and I, more importantly, to catch myself a "Proper Lunker", a big wild Brown Trout.

We had been warned that there would be some filming going on at Dovedale but I never imagined that it would be on such a large scale. I had presumed that it was going to be a camera crew and a few horses....not Russell Crowe and a hundred and sixty strong unit of heavy cavalry.

How many people, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, and Roy Sheider aside, can say that they've fished their way through a film set?

I arrived at the car park at 5.30pm and bumped in to Tony Slade and he joined me to walk up Pointon's Glen towards the filming. I wanted to fish the mid section to keep away from the filming, and to try some new water.

As we got closer to the action, we were stopped by security men and they arranged for the filming to stop for a couple of minutes while we passed through the horses.

Some of the lads on horseback were asking us about the fishing and about what fish we catch but the security men were getting a bit uptight and wanted us to move on....all this under the watchful eye of Mr Crowe who was mounted on a large white horse further up the hill. It was all very impressive and very realistic.

I fished the mid section with Tony but rises were few and far between. I tried many different flies but very little was happening. At about 6.30pm we were joined by Guy, and the three of us fished our way back down towards the Nursery pool.

The weather was a little dreach and it started to go dark quite early. We bumped in to quite a few other Leek and District Fly Fishing Association lads and it was clear that we were all finding the fishing quite slow.

I'd been using a range of different flies but there didn't appear to be a hatch to match I was struggling. I desperately didn't want to blank as this would really knock my confidence and I've been fishing well of late.

I dropped in to the river between the trees in the Nursery Pool, a spot where Glen and I have fished a few times and we've often seen a good few rising, and tonight there were three. I thought about which fly to use and knew that I'd soon put these fish down if I cast to them too many times.

"The sedge youth...use the sedge", I could almost hear, Obi Wan Kenobi style...I selected one of Glen's "Living the Dream" sedges, tied it on and cast to the fish that was rising tight to the bank in front of me....nothing...I cast again, and again and then wollop, he was on.

This Brownie gave me a right scrap, and after a while I managed to land him. I was desperate not to drop him as this was definitely my best fish at Dovedale to date at over 1.5 lbs. I was pleased that I'd managed to land a fish like this in such difficult conditions.

Guy and I made our way back towards the stepping stones and I had a cast to a favourite spot where, if I'm having a tough session and fearing a blank, I can cast and usually hook a fish. Tonight was no exception and I landed another, smaller, Brownie.

We slowly wandered back towards the car park, fishing the pools and the faster sections on the way back. I wonder whether Mr Crowe will be joining us in Dovedale this evening?

Glen says he's "goin av the crack with Crowey", and I don't doubt it for a second.


PS....... Hello to those visiting via, please leave me a comment.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Dovedale comes up with the goods....

....I'm fishing every day this week whilst the family are away and last night I visited Dovedale again, I love the place. 

Glen managed to sneak out before me in the afternoon and on his way back from his session, he decided to call me to advise me to "Geron it youth, it's buzzing man" I did....and he was right.

Before I arrived at the car park, I had decided that I would walk up to the stretch around Ilam Rock as I've fished the water up to the stepping stones (aka Pointon's Glen) quite a bit this season. I really enjoyed fishing the slower, deeper parts of the river on Sunday, it's quieter up there too.

The air temperature was much higher than it has been in the last couple of days and the river, although still high, was much clearer. I crossed the footbridge and just couldn't bring myself to walk past the fast stretch, so all plans went out of the window, as usual and I started to fish. I envy all the other fishermen who have the willpower to walk past this stretch to fish the other sections.

I fished my way up to the Nursery Pool taking fish along the way. I found that after catching two in the first fifteen minutes, my confidence was growing, and this really helped the fish come on. There is nothing worse than when you have those days when you are always in a tangle, uncomfortable with your gear, hot, mythered (irritated for those who conner tow crate), and swearing at everyone and stops you catching fish. So of late, I have learned to make sure that I'm as organised as possible before I leave the car park, and that I'm keeping unnecessary accessories to an absolute minimum, and I think it's starting to do the trick. 

There were good olive hatches coming off all evening. I stuck with dries all night and one in particular for the most part, which I thought was one from Glen's Living The Dream range. It was a small olive emerger and the only one I had in my, as it was taking fish, I was desperate not to lose it as again, this would be a blow to my confidence.

I walked right up to where you can cross the river to avoid the ascending path and fished my way back to the Nursery Pool where I couldn't resist having a crack at the plentiful rises there. I'm finding that my presentation is improving, especially since I've started to use a braided leader to minimise drag, and experimented with different types and makes of tippet. I tempted a good few fish to the fly and dropped a couple. I changed to an Elk Hair and to an Adams but they just weren't interested, they were totally focused on the olives.

The light started to fade quite quickly and I thought I would like to drop down to see if there were any rises further downstream and had a last couple of casts into some fast water. Here I took my best fish of the night of just under a pound. 

A great night and hopefully my confidence will continue to grow...I'll find out later as I head up there again to see if they are "avin it".


ps don't be deceived by the seemingly small size of the fish in the pic above...I've got massive hands.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Surprise Fishing Session at Dovedale

The weather was shocking on Saturday and the fisherman of North Staffordshire and Derbyshire all thought that Sunday's river fishing was ruined.  

The decision was made to book a boat on a stillwater to guarantee some fishing, I thought I'd use the experience as a warm up for my forthcom
ing trip to the Hebrides.

I woke at 5.30am to the sound of next door's cockerel giving it some. I couldn't get back to sleep as I was too excited about the day's fishing and had a quick look out of the window t
o see what the weather was doing. Conditions looked great, drying up quite nicely and sunny already. I decided to jump in the car and head off upto Dovedale to see what was going on. 

As I drove up over the Mermaid, I could see that the weather was just fine over towards Dovedale and started to wonder whether there was the faintest possibility that the river may have dropped if the rain had stayed off in the night. I arrived at Dovedale car park at 6.30am. Walkers were already arriving, I guess they were making up for time lost due to the weather on Saturday. The river looked great, still up but running quite clear. 

I walked up as far as the Nursery Pool, taking pics on the way up to post on the blog in case any of the lads from further South wanted any info to help them plan their fishing day. I new that once Glen got a glimpse of the pics, he'd want to fish the Dove. (see pics o
n previous post). When I got home I contacted Johnny, who was thinking of fishing Wolfscotedale, and Glen and we decided that, given the conditions, all plans were to be scrapped and we were to rendezvous at Dovedale at 2pm.
I've never seen the car park at Dovedale so busy, they were letting the cars in on a one in one out basis. Picked Glen and Johnny up in the Wine Shop van and headed off to Milldale, from there fishing all the way down the Dove back to the car park. I just couldn't believe how few people we saw on the way down, it goes to
 show that it doesn't matter how busy it appears at Dovedale, the majority of visitors make there way up to the stepping stones then turn back again, there was plenty of parking at Milldale too.

We each took a few fish on the way down, Grayling seeming to be predominant. At about 4pm, we stopped fishing for a while, lighting the Kelly in one of the caves at Doveholes.

We spent a good bit of time fishing the
 mid section which I have to say is my favourite stretch of the Leek and District Fly Fishing association stretch, not necessarily because of the amount and quality of fish, but because it is so beautiful. For me, angling is about having an excuse to spend long periods of time in these places, fishing 
with like minded folk and having a laugh...and oh, catching fish of course. 

Glen landed a good wild pounder on his "Living The Dream" pattern whilst Johnny was having good sport on a New Zealand style rig.

Rises were not plentiful and we spent quite a bit of time finding the fish and taking it in turns to have a go at them with different flies, the fish
 seeming to be quite choosy but we landed a few between us.

As the light began to fade, we headed off towards the Nursery Pool and the fast stretches downstream, I could tell that Glen was starting to think of his "Proper Lunker" that he has set his mind on landing this season....would tonight be the night? 

We took a few more fish in the Nursery Pool section and as it started to get dark, fished the faster water in between the stepping stones and the footbridge....there were no rises and we couldn't tempt any fish to the fly, dry or wet. We decided that we should have one last Kelly, having agreed that we we'd had another ace days fishing.

After a long days fishing, refreshments were required in front of a blazing fire....

A pint of Isle of Skye Brewery's Blaven Ale, a strong (5%abv) amber beer, quite hoppy, and very refreshing, available at all good Wine Shops in Russell Street, Leek.

The ale was accompanied by a glass of Bunnahabhain Darach Ur 
(meaning new oak in Gaelic) which is a multi vintage vatting of whiskies of various styles, including peaty and sherried whiskies, all married in fresh American Oak...bottled at 46%, there is a good, oily mouthfeel, Bunnahabhain marmalade and peat on the palate and a long spicy finish.....unfortunately not available at Wine Shops in Russell Street, Leek.

The prospect of a great days fishing...

These pictures were taken at around 7am today (Sunday), I got up at 5.30am...couldn't sleep I was that excited about today's fishing opportunties. This picture was taken on the road back towards Alstonfield overlooking the Manifold Valley.

Mid Section at Dovedale. The water is still pretty high but surprisingly very clear. By evening, it should be fishing well.

Looking back from The Nursery Pool towards the stepping stones. This will be a busy spot in a few hours time. I was amazed to see that there were quite a few people arriving to walk even at 6.45am.