Saturday, 14 June 2014

Fishing Trip - An Introduction to Fly Fishing and Trout

I first went fishing (as my daughter Holly has done), with a jar and a small net attached to the end of a bamboo pole for sticklebacks and other fry.

It wasn’t until I was about nine years old that I actually got a small fishing rod with a fixed spool reel for casting the baited hook a little bit further away.  At about the same time my father got a fly rod from “Durham Anglers” when it was situated on Claypath in the city.  The proprietor ran casting classes for those who wanted them to go with their new fly rod, so I went along with my Dad and was shown the ropes.  At home I decided to practise casting on the large Rectory lawns aiming for targets with a feather ties to the end of the line.

I did get quite good at casting, but when it was time to go to the river, I ended up back with my five feet long rod and fixed spool reel.  I didn’t get to fish with the fly rod.  My other friends seem to enjoy ledgering, spinning and floating fishing for coarse fish, and every now and then a trout would take the bait.  I carried on an amassed a selection of tackle and rods and represented Newcastle Polytechnic in the National Colleges match fishing competition on the Grand Union Canal near Warwick University in 1984.  I did manage to borrow the rod on a few occasions to fly-fish in the River Wear at “The Sands” in Durham City, but always ended up catching chub, dace and roach; never a trout on the fly.

It was only while working at the Royal Infirmary in Sunderland that I inherited some fly making equipment from my grandfather that I started making flies for Mr. R Warne (the Senior Chief at the time in the Histopathology Department) and getting my father’s old fly rod, that I was able to go with my father and his new rod to practice fly-fishing for trout  in actuality at Witton Park.  It was their that I caught my first trout on an artificial fly.  It was exciting to think that a fish would take a piece of material wrapped around a hook that looked nothing like anything in its natural diet.

It wasn’t just the fish that was hooked that day but me, although it wasn’t until I met Bob Smith from Morpeth (while teaching in Ashington), that I really started to become obsessed as well as proficient at catching trout and making flies.  I had previously been thinking always about the cast and hadn’t actually understood what the fishing books had been describing for the process of retrieval of the line and hooking the fish.

I picked up the tips quickly and since then have generally managed to return home with a couple of trout from every trip.  The average is that I never return empty handed, and one July day in 2005, even managed to get a TroutMasters award for a 14lb 6oz Rainbow Trout at Jubilee Lakes in County Durham.

I have to say also, that I am not actually interested in pulling out every fish in the river or lake.  I like to catch  a fish that I will eat with my family.  I don’t wish to have a fish suffer the trauma of being caught and released either.  When I have what I need, I pack up and go home.  I like to tailor my flies to hooks that will fulfil this purpose.  When working in Qatar, I would fly fish in the shallow waters around the pier in the bay at Simaisima.  The fishing was good for four years, until net fishermen removed all the fish in about one month during the fifth year.  So much for my Friday morning relaxation!

Fly fishing is a skill; an art if you like.  Each cast I like to be as smooth a roll as possible.  I get embarrassed when the fly makes a splash on the water. In Qatar I remember being filmed casting by people from the pier.  I must have been an unusual sight, waist deep and casting across the waves in the baking sun.

Regretfully, I didn’t do my research into Mongolia particularly well before arriving for a three month teaching stint, though in my defence, I only had four days to get ready!  I left my rod at home and only last week discovered that the country has the world’s largest trout species about 700km from where I was in Ulaanbaatar.  However, given that the Taimen can be up to two metres long and 90kg, my light tackle might have been hard pushed to cope with something more deserving of heavy salmon equipment.

Many fisheries are importing trout species from around the globe, so it may be useful to anglers young and experienced, to see the many varied forms and colours of fish we call “trout” included in the guide.

The e-book got into's top ten for fly fishing books according to Angler's Net website in April 2013.

Now at the end of July 2014, the action in the book is about to become reality as Holly and I head to Chatton Trout Fishery  in Northumberland to meet up with Bob Smith who has indicated he will be able to assist in the fly fishing tuition of Holly. I have no doubt that she will do well with his expert tutelage. 

Friday, 18 April 2014

Any Means To An End - Synopsis & Excerpt

ISBN 9781781760048 
Publisher FeedARead
 In this prize winning novel (Rosetta Press 2012), diaries are uncovered detailing the life and times of Richard Buchanan. He is an English Navy officer leading a gang of sailors through the blue water Caribbean to the grey of the Baltic. They wreak havoc on enemy shipping, pirates and those who act outside the law. Donating their prizes to the Crown they are welcomed back to the fold and entrusted with more missions. Finding intrigue, murder and romance along the way, will Richard ever settle down in his beloved South Shields?
An Excerpt
Thursday 8th January 1680
It’s about time we were back sailing under our true colours.  When we left Tortuga back in October we went under a French Letter of Commission.  After the debacle in Guadeloupe, we have mainly been pretending to be Dutch.  Now we’re back as part of the blue squadron.  Not that the real blue squadron would recognise us officially, but I’ve a naval commission and I’m sure they wouldn’t turn down an offer of help if it were needed, just like when Morgan took Port Royal.
Anyway, that’s enough idle dreaming.  I’m sure the French have got a bounty on our heads now for the death of Monsieur Riviere.  With any luck we’ll be able to slip out of the Caribbean along the South American coast.
The day started cloudy and then darkened. Another storm was blowing up.  White horses charged across the ocean from behind us.  We have been able to run in front of the storm so far, but I’m not sure if we’ll be able to keep the two ships together overnight.  The Siren is bobbing up and down like a cork in these waves.  It feels bad enough in this ship, which is almost double the size of the sloop.  Bess knows where we’re headed.  I just hope that she can follow us through the night or rejoin us at La Blanquilla.  The standing order is this, “If you can, make it to the rendezvous.  If you can’t wait there, move to the next one and repeat that process until we meet up again”.
I’ve been along to see Hannah in her quarters this afternoon to see if she can calm the waves down a bit, but she assures me they’d be even worse than what they were already if she wasn’t doing her chants and candle magic.  Her cabin has a sword laid out on what appeared to be an altar with candles, goblets burning incense, and pentacle drawn out.  She asked for more space and so shifted her accoutrements into my larger cabin space. She then started moving the furniture about to her needs.  I left her to it.
Going out on deck, this looked like it was going to be worse than the storm that swept Charles Walters away on the eleventh of November.  What light had been available went at sunset, leaving just the lanterns swinging violently around their mountings on the Delft.  Off in the distance, unable to keep up with us as we ran before the wind, the Siren’s lights got further behind us.  After two more hours into the night, with most of the sails reefed and everything battened down, the storm seemed to swallow them up.
Amid all the shouting on deck, the lashing of wind, rain and sea, I’d quite forgotten what was afoot in my cabin and just went in as normal, blithely turning to hang my soaked sea coat on a peg by the door.  Spinning around to cross the room, I was confronted by the image of a tanned imp, calmly sat in the centre of a circle and pentagram marked in chalk on the floor.
“Close the door please,” Hannah commanded me and then, “You may observe.”
I sat down and watched in wonder as an eerie lavender glow appeared around this young lady and then bursts of light seemed to shoot out from her through the ships sides and into the night.  A lot of the rays seemed to go aft, as if after the Siren.  It was as if she was trying to pull the other ship towards us and at the same time calm the waves.
“I shall keep this up until the storm has abated,” she interrupted herself.  It was clear that I couldn’t help her and that she didn’t want to be stopped, so I sat down to write.

Friday 9th January 1680
I awoke this morning to glorious sunshine, shining in through the cabin window.  Hannah was still in the room tidying up.  Looking out of the glass, I could see the Siren sailing along just behind us, none the worse for the storm.
Up on deck, Dutch was using the astrolabe to check our position.  We’d gone about 50 miles overnight but had been blown past Orchilla towards La Tortuga.  He then corrected the course back to the northeast, towards La Blanquilla.
Albert Scott prepared a hearty breakfast to warm the crew up after such an arduous night, and also get them set up for a day of maintenance and repairs to the battered ship.  Signals from the Siren confirmed that they had survived and were starting repairs also.  The heavy swell continued in the aftermath of the storm. That continued to slow the progress of our journey.  In many respects, the storm and the repairs it caused are useful, as it kept an otherwise idle crew busy.
Saturday 10th January 1680
The wind continued to blow, but less strongly than yesterday.  Both ships moved along quickly, running at about ten to fifteen knots.  At this rate, we should be at La Blanquilla by tomorrow morning.  A couple of sails have been seen on the horizon but no attempt was made to chase and neither did they turn towards us.
More drilling took place to practice firing the guns, whereby first the Siren towed a target and then we on the Delft towed one.  The gun crews with the most accurate shooting were given extra grog with their evening meal.  The repairs to sails, rigging and spars are complete now.

Sunday 11th January 1680
As expected, not long after dawn, clouds on the horizon signalled the approaching island.  Not long after that, La Blanquilla came into view and both ships slipped through the waves towards it.
The Delft anchored a bit further off the shore than the Siren with its shallower draught.  On this side of the island there was just a shelving beach, though we could see over to the east, that there was a rocky outcropping and reefs breaking up the waves.
 Being only forty yards off the beach, and the Siren even closer, all the boats were quickly launched and those not in them were jumping overboard and swimming to the shore.  From his high point atop the main mast, Tranter called down that we were, it seemed, the only ones on the island.
Tyrell and Pierce were sent off with an armed party of ten to scour the island for any hidden supply or people hiding out here.  The remaining men on the beach were sent to hunt out driftwood and wildlife that might do for food and a fire.  After that, the crew divided into two teams, and had a game of football before the sun reached its zenith.  The fire was lit; birds and fish were prepared and roasted. Those who could swam in the warm water and the rest just splashed about.
I had decided to swim to the shore and, after hanging up my kit to dry out, I took a walk with Bess along the beach to discuss plans for the coming few days, as well as how I’d like attacks on shipping to proceed using both boats to full advantage.  Rather than putting anything down in writing, we sat down and drew the plans in the sand where the waves would soon wash away any evidence.
Returning to the main group, I noticed that Hannah had come ashore but slipped away from the main group into the scrub behind the beach.  Back with the others and helping myself to some snapper, the rest of the afternoon was spent on the beach, with the men practicing swordplay with each other and then races along the beach.
Eventually, the search party returned with a small chest of gold coins.  These were counted and recorded and sent on to the Siren.  It made sense to divide the prize monies into being stored on board both ships, just in case we lost one, but in proportion related to the numbers of crew on each ship.
Packing up and clearing the beach of clues to our presence, we departed before sunset to the east to head for our next stop at Los Testigos.

Monday 12th January 1680
The wind picked up from about midnight, and the Siren started to edge out in front of the Delft, as our tacks were longer.  By dawn, they were well ahead of us when a sail came over the horizon.
The Siren turned towards it, and signalled that it was going to have a meeting.  Through the telescope I could make out that the other ship had agreed to the meeting, but as in all instances in these waters, it could just be a ruse.  I hoped that Bess knew how to deal with this, and whether she was going to let Tyrell appear on deck and do the negotiations.  Her normal appearance may raise eyebrows on the other ship and cause them to think “Pirate!” straight away.   I was prepared to see how this all played out. After all, I had all of the plunder on board the Delft apart from the single chest put on the Siren yesterday.
The distance between the two ships shrank quickly.  Closing on them slowly, I could see that the other ship was an English corvette and that discussions were proceeding amicably.  Tyrell had kept the flags flying all the time.  Through the spyglass, I’d not seen Bess on deck at all, which was probably best.  An English naval commander would be surprised to see her in charge of what was supposed to be an English armed merchantman.
Having said that, I was surprised to see it so far south, on its own!  It had to be a trap!
We were only a couple of hundred yards away when I saw Tyrell look at me through the telescope and I ran up the black flags.
He had a stroke of brilliance telling the other ship’s officers he was being chased by pirates.  They, playing their part well, decided to take us on first and leave the smaller ship until later.  Moving back to their ship, and edging away towards us, Bess then appeared on deck barking orders to the Siren crew to open fire.  The other ship, “The Falcon” then had ships on either side of its hull start firing at close range; two guns from the Siren, five from the Delft.
The Falcon raised a black flag too.  No one would be taking prisoners. This was going to be a fight to the death.  Chain and canister shot raked the decks of all three ships.  Hopefully, being lower, the Siren was following agreed orders and firing ball and explosive shot into the Falcon’s side.  The Falcon seemed to be under strength in its gunnery teams, as only four of its ten possible guns were firing after the first broadside had gone.
Circling around the Falcon, the Delft was given an unprotected side to fire at, as they were reloading on the other side.  Bess hadn’t been following orders, the hull was untouched.  The canister shot kept firing and the Delft took a hit below the waterline. 
“We’re taking on water, Captain!” called Smith.
The Falcon got closer, so rather than stay on board a sinking ship, I yelled out “It’s time to board”.
Grapples were thrown, connected and the crew stopped firing.  The Siren came around, saw what was happening and thankfully stopped firing its main guns too.  They then went around the other side and joined in the boarding from their boat.
Once on board, it didn’t take too long to subdue the crew, the parley with the Siren had drawn most of them onto their deck and they had been cut down by the first few volleys of canister shot.  The deck was a mess, slippery with guts and blood.

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Protective Craft - Synopsis and Excerpt

ISBN 9781781766576
Publisher FeedARead
Now with a 5-Star review on

The Commodore's adventure continues, in this, the follow-up to "Any Means to an End".  He must return to the New World, where surprises abound, and loyalties are stretched to breaking, while an abandoned love resurfaces to change everything .....


Friday 9th July 1680
The three ships stood proud by the north side of what according to the charts, could be Ocracoke Island.  We certainly seemed, in the light of day, to be on one of the barrier islands off the coast of the mainland.  Longboats were launched and parties landed to explore the island. These were led by Tyrell, Longbottom and myself from the Retribution, each taking three marines and three gunners.  One group, led by Longbottom was to stay with the longboats, and the other two groups were to head in opposite directions around the island to see what could be seen, note it down and report back.  Dauntless was sent north to find the mainland and get some repairs done using native forest wood.
Sails on the frigates were patched by the crews remaining on board, but since there was just sand dune and thick grass on the islands, it was just as well they had no damaged masts or spars.
The exploration continued for several hours.  The southern team under Tyrell, after finding the end of the island, looped back on the ocean coast and then cut back across the island.  There, they assisted Longbottom in his fishing and cooking efforts.
My team had progressed northwards and eventually walked along the central dunes to view both sides of this long sand bar.
With me I had Tranter, Buttons and Fish along with the marines Staithes, Lord and Waltham. These were all from the original expedition last autumn to the Caribbean.  As we walked in the sand and sharp grasses the sailors began to talk.
“If this is part of Virginia, why can’t we see evidence of any colonists Sir?” Buttons led the questions.
“I can only suppose that movement beyond James Towne is very difficult.  The land is occupied by natives who, like most people, get upset when someone comes along and squats on their land.  Put it this way, if the Swedish king decided that after an explorer landed on an empty piece of Northumberland coast that the land was Terra Incognita, it would therefore be available for claim by Sweden.  The locals might be a little upset later when a Swedish fleet arrived and deposited enough people and materials to build a complete town with fort and stockade.  Then, to top off the insult they found they haven’t quite brought enough of the right materials or food and then went to the locals and demanded that they help them survive until the next fleet arrives.  This fleet then arrives and deposits troops and weapons to destroy the locals and expand the settlement further.”
Fish piped up, “I see your point Sir, but aren’t the locals here savages.”
‘If you have someone break into your bedroom in the night and try to rob you, wouldn’t your behaviour become savage, especially if they wouldn’t leave?  More to the point, who told us that they were savages?  Only the very people who wish us to put our lives in danger so that their company can make a profit as they sit back in safe houses in England, most probably in London or big manors on large estates.”
‘But Sir,” pressed Lord, “Some of the people in Virginia are indentured servants who will get land for themselves at the end of their service.  Isn’t that worth coming for?”
“Think about it, Lord.  In this heat in the summer months and the bitter cold we had described to us back in James Towne, who are the masters going to send out to do the work and fight off any Indian raids?  The indentured labourers.  They are the ones who will die off first, well before anyone has to worry about which parcel of land they are to receive.”
I continued to ram the point home to my audience.  “Think about this.  We have been to James Towne and we will visit Charles Towne.  The colonies are called Virginia and Carolina.  It is all about kingship and power.  These aren’t set up for the benefit of the common man.  It’s about royalty allowing a company to make money with a slice going to the crown.  We as agent of the crown have to back that support up with force if need be.  I wouldn’t mind if the crown had asked the natives for an agent to be placed in a tribe to organise goods for ships to arrive, do some trading and then leave, just like the merchants do in the Baltic and other ports around Europe.  But not here.  The Spanish and Portuguese set the precedent by getting the Pope to allow the carving up of the world between them and then everyone else had played catch-up slowly and turned on whatever is left.  We missed an opportunity, lads, in the forties and fifties to have a true change in society where land belonged to all and every man had a say in how the country was run.  In England, the problem is that those in power are greedy whether they be Lord Protectors or sovereigns.  They all want to keep what they have and take more, and it’s always at someone else’s expense.”
“But you have a farm, a shipping company and are paid by the crown sir!”
“I know!”  I admitted.  “I am a vested interest, and I too intend to hold on to what I have got.  If we stay together we’ll try to get some more to line our pockets with too!” I laughed.  “I at least will try to bring some wealth to those with me.”
My decision to go back to the ship along the ocean coast was made after seeing more dark clouds on the southern horizon.  The group finally returned to the ships as the sun was setting.  This was only after agreeing on a sketch map of the island and approximate distances.
On board the Retribution, Crabtree brought in to the cabin a pleasant stew made from the fish Longbottom had caught with his team off the island beach earlier in the day.
“I think you will enjoy this soup Sir.  I think that the flatfish used in making it is similar in flavour to a flounder from our shores.”
“Let us hope it didn’t follow the ship all the way over here, because it would have become rather tired!”

Saturday 10th July 1680
I awoke still anchored off Ocracoke.  The dawn broke a fiery red with high clouds glowing as if they were burning.  Dauntless appeared from over the other side of Pamlico Sound and Master Christian Johnson sent the signal that repairs had been made and they were ready to proceed.
The Kent and Retribution began to pick their routes carefully out of the sound, towards the break in the offshore sand bars.
The ships all sallied forth through the gap in the barrier islands (to the east of the smaller islands) before heading south again.
The sun continued to shine brightly and fry those on deck.  I spoke to Longbottom.  ‘I think we should reduce the length of time the men are on deck in this heat.  They seem to be wilting rapidly!”
“You may be right Sir, however, you may change you mind if you go below deck.  I would prefer to be up on top.”
“Point taken Fred.  I shall leave things as they are.”  The breeze was quite cooling in the open and there was the occasional splash of spray that cooled those on deck.  I did go below to the lower gun deck and it was stiflingly hot down there.

Sunday 11th July 1680
Following the barrier islands south to Cape Lookout, Captain Joshua Bibb of the Kent was the first to steer west again to follow the coast and more offshore islands that go all the way along this coast.
I was not happy about that, I decide where this flotilla goes.  I will let the action go for now, but note it for use later.
Dauntless followed and Retribution brought up the rear.  At eleven o’clock the ships moved close enough to shore to anchor and raise the church pennants.
Afterwards, the ships’ boats took those who wanted, to the beach for swimming, washing of clothes and a hunting party set forth into the dunes to get some seabirds.
I went with Crabtree in the gig with a couple of rods and line to do some angling between the ships and the shore.
“Tell me Sir, if you don’t mind, why we are heading further south.  I thought that the colonies were in the north.”
“Mostly they are. The latest one is Carolina, which we are probably in now.  I know I can trust you to keep this to yourself.  We are heading to Charles Towne next.  That is the main settlement in Carolina at the moment.  Along with that large section of this new world,” I motioned towards the land, “The new owners, for that is what they are, also hold the title to some abandoned Spanish lands the Islas Lucaya, that are also called the Bahamas.  It seems that the Spanish removed all of the native Lucayans from those islands for slavery or by disease and, as they were pretty well useless for farming, left them devoid of inhabitants.  It seems that a few people have moved in from England and the colonies and have set themselves up there.”
“And we go to claim it for England?”
“Not quite.  We go to enforce the will of the Lords Proprietor of Carolina who have been given title to the islands by King Charles.  That was nice of him wasn’t it?”
“Indeed it was Sir.  It must be nice to be a friend of a king.  Do they have an assembly to run their affairs like in Virginia?”
“Again, not quite.  You need to remember we’re talking about Stuart kings here.  They, the Lords Proprietor have been given what Charles himself hasn’t got.  That is to say, a feudal fiefdom.”

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