Ian Harris

Ian “Dizzyfish” Harris is a UK-based angler, pioneer, and ambassador known for his generous and positive contributions to the sport.  The man behind the well read website, Leave No Trace, Ian offers to his viewers a wealth of information, including trip reports, videos, and fascinating images of the sea floor made available through his innovative use of side scanning sonar.  A self-proclaimed specimen hunter, Ian can often be found strategically stalking a variety of fish in the epically tidal Bristol Channel.

What first drew you to this style of angling? When was that?

As a child, my father used to take me fishing; I always wanted to fish somewhere other than the spot he had selected. He used to say to me, “Son, you always think the grass is greener on the other side.”  As I got older, fishing became a big part of my life. Everything from fly fishing to pike fishing and, of course, my real favourite, sea fishing. I used to walk miles, and sometimes scale ropes, to reach the best spots and get away from other fishermen. I remember fishing from the shore in one such location in one such remote venue in North Devon in 2006. I was looking along the cliffs and thinking, “I wish I could get to that spot.” A few moments later, a sea kayak appeared from nowhere and paddled across in front of me. He pulled in a string of mackerel using a hand line. It was at that moment that I knew what my fishing destiny was going to be! When I returned home that evening, I searched the web, and realised there was a whole new world out there. I haven’t looked back since.

Do you remember the first fish that you caught from a kayak?

Odd though it may seem, I really don’t remember – I suspect that it was the humble mackerel. I do remember the planning, training, and endless question asking which proceeded me getting afloat.

What food and/or music fuels your drive to the put-in?

When I travel to my favourite fishing haunts in North Devon, I try to take the scenic route along the coast road. There really is no need of sustenance on this journey; it’s just a distraction from the stunning views which abound where the cliffs of Exmoor meet the sea in some of the highest sea cliffs in England. In the spring, the vibrant colours of the heather and gorse set the moors alight in a stunning natural display. This is Lorna Doone country, and I would challenge anyone not to be moved by the sheer beauty of the place. We may not have the billfish which swim in other parts of the world, but in terms of landscape and surroundings, the UK is up there with the best of them. When the scenery does not get me into the zone, then a loud blast of The Prodigy pumping out of the car stereo does the trick.  Smack my bitch up…yes indeed!

Your blog, Leave No Trace, makes use of some fascinating imagery derived from your side scanning sonar unit. You have even managed to capture in vivid detail some long-submerged shipwrecks. Talk to us a bit as to why you decided to employ this technology.

Why side imaging ? ‘Think like a fish,’ I have heard. I fished for a long time, and as with most things, experience and knowledge teach you a lot. When I was younger, I spent a couple of years snorkeling.  Being able to see the fish swimming around in their natural environment taught me more about fish behaviour and habitat than all my fishing years. So I figured that the next best thing to seeing the fish with my own eyes, was to see them on the screen of a fish finder. This also gives me the opportunity to see areas which I would never have been able to access visually. I always wanted to learn more about the underwater structures present on some of the places I used to catch fish. Being able to see the sea bed 200 feet either side of the kayak really has helped me to find new locations and catch more fish. Inappropriate for a kayak and expensive – yes, probably; Big Boy’s toy – definitely! But it fascinates me, and having the ability to mosaic the side imaging footage from multiple trips in Google Earth is something that a few years ago would have been restricted to the likes of survey vessels. I love it.

You have recently played a role in the development of a kayak-specific fishing rod. Such a product idea is destined to generate a lot of talk amongst kayak anglers. How did you come to be involved with this project?

Conoflex has a tradition of producing some of the best fishing rods in the U.K. A while ago, a friend asked me to review his Conoflex fishing rod from the perspective of its suitability for kayak fishing. This I did, and as part of the review, I made some recommendations on attributes I would like to see in an ideal kayak fishing rod. Several weeks later, I got an email out of the blue. It was from Conoflex. They had read my review, and had incorporated my suggestions into a new fishing rod customised specifically for kayak fishing. They asked if I would like to try it out. Would I ever! The Conoflex Kayak QT (Quiver Tip) is a pretty special rod (but then, I suppose you would expect me to say that!). It’s always impressive when a company listens to what its customers want – and I hope they do well.

Who, specifically, is shaping the future of kayak angling?

In a small way, I think that we are all influencing the future of kayak fishing. Obviously, the power of global media has a massive impact. Being able to watch YouTube videos and forum reports from Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and the U.S. is very inspirational and humbling, not to mention educational. In the U.K, we are probably a long way behind many other countries – well, we were a late starter! But people like Lawrence Taylor (aka Lozz) and Richi Oliver are really pushing the boundaries, showing just what can be achieved in the UK. And Rob Appleby, who is a great fisherman.  I must also mention Simon Everett. I have always been a fisherman, but Simon taught me the paddle skills I needed to get afloat. He has been a real ambassador for the sport in the UK for over 30 years. And in that time, he has taught hundreds of people how to kayak fish.  Of course, the man who has probably had the biggest influence on the sport (in my opinion) is probably Jim Sammons. As to shaping the future, for me, it would have to be Jon Shein. I think he is a maverick, and has shaped much of what we do today.

With regard to kayak angling, what issues are important to you? What, if anything, can be done about them?

Apart from safety, the two issues closest to my heart are access and conservation. In the U.K., we have lots of issues with access for kayak fishing. There are comparatively few freshwater venues which can legitimately be fished from a kayak – that is a great shame. I live quite close to one of the most famous trout lakes in England – the stunning Blagdon lake. I live in hope that one day I might be able to fly fish this water from my kayak.

The U.K. is going through a difficult time at the moment as far as sea fishing is concerned. “No Take Zones” are being created; these will ban recreational fishing in specific areas. I cannot help thinking that overfishing by large commercial factory trawlers has depleted our fishing stocks. We also have a crazy system of fishing quotas in Europe, which require many fish landed to be thrown back (dead) to the sea. However, the commercial fishermen and netters cannot take all of the blame. Over the years, I have seen fish stocks on my local patch decline dramatically. This is in an area which is not fished by trawlers. At the time, recreational match fishermen were taking a lot of the slow growing rays, which featured so heavily in the early days. Now the fishing is a mere shadow of its former self, and it’s sad to have witnessed the decline first hand.

My feeling has always been that individuals such as ourselves have an important part to play. We occupy the middle ground – we can fish where the shore and boat fishermen cannot, and pickings can be rich. There is nothing wrong with taking fish for the pot, but I don’t like to see pictures of masses of dead fish which are not going to be eaten. Waste and greed are not good for anything. Moderation and conservation; take only what you need and leave no trace. Kayak fishermen have a great opportunity to be seen as the “good guys” – it is a low impact, environmentally friendly sport as well as being exciting and addictive.

Your name is synonymous with the act of giving back to the sport, be it through online discussions or volunteering at events in which disabled youngsters try their hands at paddlesports. Why do you feel it is important to play such a role within the kayak angling world?

That is very kind, but I can think of many others who give back a lot more to the sport than me. From my own perspective, there are a couple of reasons why I think it is important to give something back:

Firstly, I remember how awkward I felt about asking “silly” questions when I started out in kayak fishing. Now I realise that the questions were not silly, and most newcomers ask the same things. There were many people who helped me (and others), so I am just trying to return the favour in some small way.

Secondly, I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to have fished with people who will probably be regarded as pioneers of the sport in the U.K in years to come. I have made some great friends, had a real blast, and learned a lot. If I can help others to do the same, then I will be happy.

Barring money or logistics, what is your dream kayak angling trip?

My dream kayak fishing trip would see me traveling to some distant island surrounded by coral reefs and shallow sand flats. The waters would of course be teeming with bonefish, giant trevally, and permit – all eager to snatch my fly and disappear over the far horizon. The weather would be perfect – crystal clear water, dark blue skies and a gentle breeze warming my soul. All a far cry from a dark, windy winter’s day on a U.K. beach when the temperature struggles to rise above freezing. It’s good to have dreams, but when I am not fishing from a piece of plastic, my feet are firmly attached to the ground.

What’s in your milk crate?

My crate contains the usual – anchor system, drogues, fishing tackle and a cool bag containing bait, food and drink. All pretty standard fare, I’m afraid. If conditions are right, then it will also contain a ground bait sack. This is a large nylon mesh bag containing all manner of evil smelling fish in various states of decay, mixed together with oat flakes and pilchard oil. The whole lot is mixed together and then the sack is thrown over the side of the kayak and tethered to a rope. It attracts all kinds of fish. You are probably well aware of this method, but in the U.K., it’s not often practiced except by shark fishermen.

Tell us about your best day on the water.

One could argue, that any day on the water is a good day. A day spent floating around with friends who share the same love for the sport. A day spent catching fish, a day away from all of the worries and troubles of life; a day well spent. I am hoping my best day is still to come.

In terms of fishing, the ‘best’ day is tricky. Last year, I met up with my friends, Adam and Dave. The weather was perfect, the scenery stunning. The fishing was initially slow. Even the charter boats has moved off – never a good sign. Dave and Adam moved further offshore to some sandbanks. I stayed put. The radio crackled into life; it was Dave. “Just caught a spotted ray!” he announced, followed minutes later by “Just got a small eyed ray,” then “….a blonde ray!”. Adam also joined in with another fish. I could take it no more. I up’ed anchor and started to paddle out to them. By now, the tide was pushing hard, my first anchoring attempt failed. By the time I had retrieved and reset the anchor, I was a long way from my friends. I paddled back against the strong tide just in time to take a picture of Dave with another big ray. I dropped the anchor, and again, it started to drag. After hauling it in again and paddling back for a second time, I was exhausted. I paddled back to the beach to cool off. By the time I returned, Dave and Adam had run out of bait and said their goodbyes. At that juncture, it would have been much easier to call it a day myself. Instead, I decided to stick it out. I am glad I did, because I will remember the next 30 minutes for the rest of my life. I managed to catch a 10lb bass, which for me, is the stuff dreams are made of.

What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?

My idea of a kayak fishing lifestyle is all about having fun with friends, being outdoors on the water, and taking in the scenery. Catching up with old times and new, and perhaps catching a few fish. I would love to be able to say it would include a post fishing BBQ on the beach – but to be honest, in the U.K., that rarely happens.

Tell us a story, any story.

I have made some of my best and closest friends through kayak fishing. There is definitely something about the sport which brings out the best in people. I must tell you about a U.K. kayak fishing forum called AnglersAfloat. Some of the work their members have done for other people is inspiring. These are just a few of the things the members have achieved in the last couple of years:   They arrange a weekend where volunteers take disabled youngsters paddling on a lake – some of these youngsters return year on year, and their faces light up when they are on the water. A few of the fitter lads recently dragged their kayaks up some of the highest peaks in the UK, to raise money for charity. But possibly the most touching story concerned a brave young lad called Jordan. The members clubbed together and built him an electronic fishing reel which enabled him to catch his first fish. These emotional acts of kindness show how special they are. It makes me feel very insignificant and undeserving, but I am proud just to call these people my friends.

As a self-proclaimed specimen hunter, you spend many hours strategically and methodically researching and planning your on-water outings. Judging from your blog posts, one could deduce that your research pays off in numerous catches of big and diverse fish. What advice would you give to anglers hoping to adopt such a methodology in their pursuit of more productive sessions?

I would say “Don’t give up!” One of my friends said that a “specimen hunter” was just another name for someone who doesn’t catch many fish! Well, that is kind of true. The idea is that you brave it out with specialist tactics – targeting specific fish. You are not likely to catch as many fish, but hopefully, the ones you do catch will be bigger. Not a technique for people who want to catch every time they go out, but a great way to catch that fish of a lifetime.

What does the future hold for you?

Fish, Big ones! Joking aside, I hope I can help newcomers to the sport – and if so, then I will be happy.

More offerings from Ian can be found at his website and YouTube channel, located at http://dizzybigfish.co.uk/ and http://www.youtube.com/user/dizzyfishuk , respectively.

5 Responses to “Ian Harris”

  1. Lozz Taylor says:

    Very good picture of the UK yak fishing scene Ian and stunning vidios

  2. Mark Crame says:

    Really good stuff Dizzy. You’ve had some brilliant catches in the last few years and your approach to technical fishing is really diffrent…a few more toys and you might get as good as your boy connor :-)

  3. john & helen says:

    great write up Ian

  4. I guess the interviewer knew you well enough to only ask ‘what’s in your crate’ as asking ‘what’s in your kayak overall’ could have resulted in a very long article indeed.

    ‘Smack my bitch up’ – a classic driving song.

    Well done mate – great piece.

  5. Dan Cooke says:

    Cracking write up, I really enjoy your website too, the howtos and the reviews are really useful, and I love catch reports your pics are always fantastic, being a photographer and fisherman myself also they make me green with envy. but a good envy.

    Keep up the good work

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