Friday, 29 January 2010

Deadly Duo Does for the Dovedale Ladies

Only 7 weeks to go boys....until the 2010 Trout season and this angler cannot wait. Armed to the teeth with a new range of fly rods to suit all waters and conditions, I'm itching to be back on the dry fly, and judging by yesterday's fishing, I won't have to wait too long.

Fellow blogger, Matt Carr and I met at the bridge at Ellastone at 9.30am, intending to spend a few hours there. I was a little blurry eyed after a late night, having hosted a whisky tasting in Coventry the night before. I was looking to pleasure fish. We got into the fast water at the top of the DRAC stretch, but it was to high for me, and although we were getting the odd take, I asked Matt if he wouldn't mind if we headed off to Dovedale. He didn't, so we did.

Conditions at Dovedale were as I had expected them to be, so rarely does it disappoint. I'd say about 1/2 foot up and carrying a slight milky tinge. Pretty good conditions.

I noticed that there were more fish moving about than there has been in the last few weeks and the dippers were hard at work, leaping from overhanging branches and returning a few seconds later with their prey.

I started to catch fish in the slow pool up above what I call "Island Pool", above the pool with the smaller Island pool, "Wee Island Pool", above "Nursery Pool". I'm pretty sure LADFFA lads will know what the hell I'm talking about..but still, I feel a map coming on, anyone with suggestions of pool or particular stretch names, please supply by leaving a comment.

I'd decided to fish using the duo setup a la Fly Forums Mr Fishcake, surely the Jedi of that practice, and sure enough, in combination with my trusty, and quickly becoming favourite, Streamflex 6ft 6" 3wt, I was taking fish, and a few nice ones at that. My only disappointment was that I hooked into a lunker of a Grayling above Ilam Rock, saw the fish, but dropped it, missing the chance of an amazing end to a good days fishing. I also had a trout slashing at my indicator fly....maybe another sign that the season is not far away!

We had fished all the way up to Ilam Rock but fishing was harder up in the mid sections of the LADFFA stretch, but that said, It was good to catch up with Matt and a pleasure to be strolling along in these beautiful surroundings.


Sunday, 24 January 2010

Chase Distillery Vodka and Gin

The rivers are up, no fishing to be done, and its about time we were reporting a fab new drink or two....Léonie steps in to talk about some fab new drinks from a new distillery in...wait for it

The Wine Shop Leek is now a stockist of the new Williams Chase Gin, produced just down the road in Herefordshire. We originally heard of the distillery when it began to produce the first English Potato Vodka back in 2008, after having already made a success with Tyrrells Potato Chips.

Chase was inspired for this change in direction when he discovered a small distillery producing vodka from potatoes in the USA in 2004 but it was not until April Fool's Day 2008 that the first batch was finally distilled.

With a handcrafted copper batch pot still, a bespoke copper 70 foot tall rectifying column and traditional potato varieties of Lady Claire and Lady Rosetta, absolutely minuscule amounts are made. Although it takes only three weeks to get from potato to vodka, it takes a staggering 16 tonnes of potatoes to produce just 1000 litres (that's about 250 spuds a bottle).

Oz Clarke and James May visited the distillery to taste the vodka, in their 'Drink to Britain' TV Show last year and indeed it has received much favourable press for its soft, creamy, velvety style.

Now, their Williams Elegant Crisp Gin has been released and what a gin it is. On tasting it the minute it arrived on Thursday morning, we immediately ordered stock, and booked them to come and hold a tasting in our marquee at Leek Show later this year.

What makes it unique is that, along with the usual botanicals of Juniper, Coriander, Angelica, Liquorice, Orris, Orange and Lemon Peel, Hops and fresh Bramley apples!

All I know is it has the most sensuous aromas, gorgeous mouthfeel and the taste stays with you forever...

Check out the lovely website at then pop into the shop to taste it for yourself.

Williams Elegant Crisp Gin 70cl £32.99
Chase Vodka 70cl £32.99

Chin chin


Sunday, 17 January 2010

Tyzack, Teviot and Tweed: A Good Combination for Lunking Grayling

5.45am Friday 15th January. Peering from the condensated bedroom window, I eventually see a pair of lights shining down the lane and I know that the time has come. Pointon and I are about to embark on our first angling expedition of 2010.

The weather websites had promised various conditions ahead of us, everything from still, bright, sunny days, to full on, 4omph winds and drifting, freezing snow. We'd been in touch with our guide, none other than England Rivers Champion Mr John Tyzack, and between us we decided to go for it, pack plenty of warm clothing, plenty of tackle and plenty of beer tokens. Lets face it, we thought, with Tyzack's talent, and TV's rising star Pointon as part of our team, we were sure to land some lunkers and have a laugh along the way....we weren't to be disappointed.

So Glen and I headed up the M6, and stopped for a 10 part breakfast in a small cafe in Tebay. What would the conditions be like, we thought, how would we cope with the icebergs, the slippery banks, the freezing weather, the driving sleet and snow? Who would catch, would we catch, would Woody down too much scotch and have to bow out on the Saturday morning session?

We would rendez-vous with Tyzack and his friends, Andy and Rich just outside Langholm. It was obvious we were all keen on getting tackled up and into the river as soon as possible, all knowing that, whilst we had at least two full day's fishing ahead of us, we had a lot of big water to cover.

We made our way North to Denholm where we purchased our Hawick rivers day tickets which would allow us to fish the Teviot. John had explained to us that the fish would be hard to find given the size of the river, but when we did find them, they could be of record breaking size.

Arriving at the car park, we donned our waders, neoprene for me today, fearing the cold, and went to have a look over the bridge at the large, and powerful river below. Pointon immediately became rather animated, jumping up and down in a broad potteries accent, expletives pouring out of his face, occasionally interjected with the odd, "Salmon", "massive", and "fag". We'd seen a large fish downstream of the bridge, and above it we'd seen a huge Salmon flashing on it's side with another large male fish just upstream from it and we presumed that these would be spawning. They were huge fish and it gave us that feeling electric feeling that every take could be a connection with a monster fish. We were clearly about to enter a watery world much different than our comparatively smaller streams of the Dove, Wye and Churnet.

Upstream from the bridge, Tyzack and I got into the river. I was quite nervous at first given the power of the river but John was building my confidence, making sure that I was well within my comfort zone at all times. I'd borrowed a 10ft 4wt Streamflex and JT showed me how to rig up for a 3 fly, Czech nymphing set up and the principles of how to fish it and I quickly started to become comfortable with it. He's an excellent tutor with amazing attention to detail, frequently offering correcting advice and observing every aspect of your technique, without making you feel nervous or under pressure. John had a take early on and landed a Grayling of about a pound, about ten minutes later, I hooked into a similar sized fish and faster, shallower water.

We were a little surprised to be finding fish in faster water and we worked our way upstream and fished a new swim. Things were quite tough and takes were few and far between especially given the surprisingly good conditions of the river, running a few inches up and very clear.

A few minutes later there came a shout and JT was into a good sized fish from shallow, fast, water. Glen and I congratulated as he landed this superb 2lb Scottish Lady. "Come on Woody, let's get you a fish son", said John, and he explained where he'd seen the take, on the far bank on a sharp bend on this large, Scottish river.

I'd made 2 or 3 passes with my flys and I'd got that electric feeling that any second now, my indicator line would dive under water and I would be into the fight of my life time...and with that, all I could see was ivory Grey's Platinum and she was on. Shy at first but then the fish had realised that all was not as it should be, and it was lunging head down for the gravel.

John walked to the bank and put down his rod and waded back through the water to guide me through landing this lovely fish. "That's a good fish Woody!", he shouted as he got nearer to me, giving me more and more encouragement all the while , he new it was crucial for all of us that I landed this fish to grow my confidence and to beef up the team spirit. He grabbed my arm so that all I needed to think about was landing that fish, worrying about wading and playing at the same time would decrease my chances of landing this beautiful lunking Lady.

"Well done Woooooddddyyyyyyyy!!! You ****!" Shouted you know who, and I was chuffed to bits. Pointon got his video camera out and made me wear one of those Scottish hats with red hair attached and set me up good and proper, much to the amusement of the rest of the team over beers later on that evening in the bar.

Glen's weighing net came in handy and we soon discovered that the fish was 2lb 2oz, a personal best for me.

We fished the same swim for a little while longer but it began to look like JT had found a pair of fish in that swim and we'd landed both of them so it was time to move on.

Andy had taken 6 or 8 further upstream and Rich had managed a couple but we all agreed that it was tough so we decided to jump in the cars and to move on to another stretch of the Teviot.

It was getting late but we had time to try out a few more swims, and we fanned out along a large stretch. There were many places that you'd put money on striking into fish but it was just not happening and I started to wonder whether, as JT had told us, that snow melt and road salt may be affecting the fishing. However, even though conditions were hard, the combination of JT's excellent guiding and the amazing surroundings made it all worth while.

We called it a day at about 4.30pm, made our way back to the digs in Kelso and headed for the pub. We had a right good natter, a few games of killer, and it wasn't long before the ale started to have the desired affect on Pointon and his legendary social etiquette started to kick in. He was rubbered and had us all in fits of laughter with his reminiscences of incidents involving everything from a meeting with Spongebob Squarepants, an instruction to pass wind, how to rewire a brothel and I don't think any of the group, myself included, will ever, ever forget Glen's description of his new passion of playing the trombone, please email him for more details.

That night was sleepless for a number of reasons. Snoring, farting in a Potteries accent, farting in a Manc accent, Pointon snoring, Pointon talking in his sleep about Tyzack's style of fishing, Pointon snoring, Pointon's alarm clock at 4.30am, Pointon Snoring, Tyzack beating pointon with pillows trying to stop him snoring, and Pointon snoring.

Yesterday the big thaw happened and we headed home, every river in the Borders of Scotland being near enough over the bank and unfishable, but we'd had a great time, some lovely lunking Scottish Grayling and a really good laugh along the way.

Please don't laugh too much at the video of me that Pointon will inevitably post on his blog.


Friday, 8 January 2010

Wintery Conditions at Dovedale

Had a walk up Dovedale with the dog this morning. When I arrived at the car park, mine was the only car there. I couldn't get my coat and gloves on fast enough because it was so cold and if I had brought my rod with me, I'm afraid I would have given it a miss.

As I got further up towards Ilam Rock though, the sun was getting into the valley, and fishing would have been much more comfortable.

The river is running a couple of centimetres up and very clear. I saw the odd fish move but most were hiding away.

As I neared the end of my walk, I saw a really dodgy looking angler and thought I'd better steer clear of him. As I walked back towards the car, I could hear him shouting obscenities at me, in a very broad, potteries accent.


Thursday, 7 January 2010

"Youth...Ellastone'ull be!"

"Youth, gert thee sen back on the river fur them Graylin, Ellastone'ull be!", came the potteries accent down the telephone as I explained my shock of having to leave Islay behind, to Glenathan T. Pointon (formerly of Haddon).

And so, at 9am this morning, I poured my "sen" into my thermals and chucked a couple of rods into the back of the car, an optimistic 6ft 3wt and a more realistic 8ft 4wt, and made my way down to the Dove at good old Ellastone on the DRAC section....a lovely stretch of river, packed with fish.

On arrival, I jumped out of the car and hurried to have a look at the conditions from the bridge, and Glen was right, it was sweet. Levels were up a little and running fairly clear.

I set up with a duo rig, a balloon caddis on the dropper and a Pheasant Tail on the point and made my way up towards the fast section having decided not to wade up the middle given that there was an extra half foot on the levels and didn't fancy a deep wade through freezing water.

I was casting for about an hour and I was having no luck at all and so, convinced that I wasn't going to hook into a fish this morning, I made my way up the bank to head back to the car.

I was surprised to see a "Glen Pointon" van speeding down the lane, and I waved, as if I needed to attract his attention, momentarily thinking that he must be just passing through and that it must just be a coincidence that he had just crossed the bridge over one of his favourite stretches of river in the world.

I decided to head back to the river with Glen to see if he had any better luck than I did. I got back into the river and fished the calmer water closer to the bank. I was hitting the bottom regularly but all of a sudden, my indicator fly dropped swiftly away and I was into a fish. The fish wasn't giving much of a fight and I presumed that it would be a small Grayling. When I got it to the surface, the Grayling had a red band all the way down it's middle and it was massive, I reckon it must have been well over 2lb and closer to 2.5lb. I'd hooked into a (out of season) Rainbow that must have been near enough under my feet and in water that I had waded through on more than one occassion.

As soon as Pointon had set up (which was after about 3/4 of an hour, his gear in such a state!), he started to catch Grayling from the slacks in midstream, his best fish being about 1 3/4 lb.

I managed one Grayling, but the nymphing method employed by Glen was certainly the method of the day.



Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Islay Hogmanay 2009

We're sitting in the dining room of the CalMac ferry," The Isle of Arran", the smaller of the two vehicle ferries that service the Hebridean Isle of Islay. 

I've just polished off a huge breakfast and am sitting reflecting on the amazing eight days we've spent on the Hebridean island of Islay whilst the ferry makes it's two hour journey from Port Ellen to Kennacraig on the mainland.

Bunnahabhain Distillery, our home for the week

The Paps of Jura, the view from number 5, Shore Road, Bunnahabhain.

Probably the most surprising aspect of our holiday was the weather. It was perfect. We had clear blue skies all week and the only rain we had was as we left number 5, Shore Road, Bunnahabhain Distillery this morning.

It really annoys me when folk, (usually English folk!) Presume that when you say you holiday in Scotland, you spend the whole time being rained upon and in desperate misery....and that is just the summer. I've visited Islay on around 30 occasions in the last 5 years and I can honestly say that, on the whole, the weather is always much warmer, and sunnier on this wee Hebridean Isle, than it is back home in the Staffordshire Moorlands. Yes, the weather can be extreme, there will be gales of frightening wind speeds and torrential rain, stopping air flights and ferry trips, but these are days for spending in front of a roaring fire with a large dram and a good book, or for tying a few loch patterns for the new Trout and Salmon season to come.


Our trip began on 27th December. We left Leek at 6am so as to allow plenty of time to battle through any snow in order to get to our 6pm ferry on time. We arrived 3 hours early, the only snow we encountered was on Shap where the M6 was down to one lane.

After a busy Christmas at The Wine Shop, we were determined to have a relaxing week and we packed the van with enough food and beer, wine, port and whisky to feed an army for a month. We found that we weren't dashing around the island, ticking off must visit spots as we have done in the past, but instead, visiting one place per day and spending a good amount of time there. It was a joy to be back in front of a huge fire each night with a large dram to hand...usually Glendronach 18 yrs old or good old Cask Strength Laphroaig.

Loch Gorm, looking much different to the last time I visited it when I fished it with Glen Pointon and Peter Dracup in September.

Our most memorable outings were to Machir Bay (Kilchoman) and to the lovely beach at Saligo where the huge Atlantic rollers crashed onto a deserted, white, Hebridean beach, devoid of any other people or even any footprints of visitors from earlier In the day. A truly magical place. The river that flows into the sea here is sizable (by Islay standards), and flows from nearby Loch Gorm. I look forward to having a few casts for Sea Trout in the summer months.

The lighthouse at Port Charlotte, overlooking Loch Indaal towards Bowmore

As ever the bird life was amazing. We saw many Buzzard, Hen Harrier, Curlew and on our walks on the "Peat Road" at Bunnahabhain, we were guided by a relay of eager Robins, much to the delight of the chasing Katie, our less than intelligent Flat Coated Retriever. There were not many deer to be seen and the closest I got to one was late last night whilst walking Katie on the beach in front of our cottage in the dark. I heard and then saw, a large stag skitter up the pebbles and rocks on the shore. I presumed that, food being scarce during the big freeze on the hill, he'd ventured down on to the shore to look for scraps among the seaweed, flotsam and jetsam.

Geese making their way towards Loch Gruinart

Islay is home to much birdlife. This pic looks over Loch Indaal towards Bowmore, the round church just visible on the sky line

I'm still on the Isle of Arran and we're just passing the island of Gigha. The weather, quite predictably, is becoming much more dull, overcast and grim, as the distance between ourselves and Islay grows.

In October 1974, the Fleetwood trawler, "The Wyre Majestic" struck rocks whilst navigating the Sound of Islay. There it has sat ever since, just down the shore from Bunnahabhain Distillery

We enjoyed many evenings with friends from Islay and it was good to catch up with a few glasses of wine and a large dram or far the highlight of these drams being a Single Cask 12 year old, incredibly heavily peated Bunnahabhain which was simply stunning. By contrast, we got to taste Bruichladdich's brand new blended Scotch Whisky...."Jim McEwan's Symphony number 1"...for reasons of diplomacy, no comment!

Much of my time was spent plotting and planning my fishing trips to Islay in the season to come. Where will I try this season? With what flies and techniques? Last year I had great fun with wee dry flies, largely ignored by local anglers. Their preference tends to be traditional wets such as Soldier Palmer, Kate Maclaren (Green Tail rather than Yellow), Butcher or Peter Ross. In September, Glen Pointon and I were having great fun taking dozens of fish on the dry LTD ("Living The Dream") and the F Fly. I'm certainly looking forward to trying these again in the season to come along with a few terrestrials.

Many of the waters looked totally different to how they are in the summer months, mostly iced over and where they weren't the water was deadly still with no sign of life whatsoever. I can remember many times making a mental note not to fall in!

Looking towards Bruichladdich and Port Charlotte from Black Rock, The Rhinns of Islay in a stunning winter sunset

Yesterday, we spent the entire afternoon at Black Rock on the Shores of Loch Indaal, Leonie being lucky enough to receive a kayaking lesson from Islay Studio's Mark Unsworth, as we enjoyed a Kelly Kettle brewed hot chocolate on the beach. I'm not saying that it was t-shirt weather, but it is good for the spirit to spend a good few hours in the sun in the depths of winter.

Looking towards Bridgend from Blackrock

Leonie in a Kayake in Loch Indaal on the 3rd of January 2010, as Leek sits under a blanket of snow and ice

Mark and Leonie return from their trip

If you are into fishing, birding, walking or simply having a wonderful, relaxing time, I would recommend the Isle of Islay above and beyond anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Yes, it's heaven to the whisky enthusiast, but Islay is not just about distilling, it is an Island rich in flora and fauna, steeped in history and of incredible natural beauty. We're incredibly gutted to be leaving it today.

Another amazing sunset, this time at Kilchoman (Machir Bay)

Nothing but bugger all separates this Atlantic Shore from Canada. A very peaceful place to be

We're heading in to Loch Tarbert and the small port at Kennacraig. The weather is dull and we are faced with a boring motorway drive this afternoon. Tim has just called to say that Leek and the Staffordshire Moorlands is under snow and that there are abandoned cars all over the place. We've called a couple of friends for weather updates desperate to hear that conditions are too bad to continue our journey back, eager to get straight back on the ferry and return to Bunnahabhain, and Islay.

Roll on the next time we're "Westering Home" to Islay.

I am looking forward to fishing Dovedale though!!

Anyone wishing to join us on one of our whisky or fishing trips (or both), please get in touch.

Feel free to leave a comment.