Monday, 13 February 2017

So What Now?

Five weeks of the river fishing season remaining and priorities now fixed.

For that tail-end of the greatest of all angling challenges, to confound the prey in flowing water, every effort will be made to target them when conditions suit. Without the benefit of turbidity dawn, dusk and after dark only must prevail.

The Winter Big Canal Roach Challenge 2016/17 remains live, and will no doubt blend into spring, prior to a lake campaign when increasing air temperatures have caused that pivotal change in warmth of the water, and thus subsurface activity.

Just a few days ago a trip to a stretch of canal I fished as a schoolboy, cycling to and from tackle-laden, but certainly had not fished in the forty years since, gave up a beauty at one pound six to the usual method when trialling a new float very much suited to lift bites, my old stock now slowly diminishing.

Bream, hybrids and slightly smaller roach also followed.


The Leam.

I recently had the rather nice fortune of being asked by the Leamington Angling Association to write a few words of encouragement for people wishing to be graced by the banks of this engaging little river.

Incidentally, it has never occurred to me until now that non-locals may be inclined to pronounce the river's name 'leem' but, no, it is indeed 'lem' as in the first syllable of Royal Leamington Spa, through which it, usually somewhat stodgily, flows.

By way of endorsement it was only appropriate that practicing of that preaching followed.

One method that can be relied upon to provide some success within its wildly changeable depth, but that I didn't have space to go into in any detail in the LAA piece, is pole feeder fishing and when the river is up, coloured and cold. It gives a couple of extra dimensions in taking advantage of creases and slacks over that of the quiver-tip, namely:
• accuracy of placing bait and feed, and,
• more prospect of hitting finicky roach bites.

Last season and the season before it was trialled to good effect on stretches further upstream than the Leamington water and was immediately found, for no fathomable reason, to result in the best fish very quickly on bread but also to enable fish to be caught in the most challenging of water conditions from deep holes in which usually the hit-and-miss-ossity of any standard legering method in such tight areas of depth and flow power make it such a problem.

I have not written about this before, other than to hint at it some months ago, as it was work in progress but now I feel we are somewhere near the 'show and tell' stage.

Numerous issues have been addressed along the way and it now feels like a properly valid method to be listed alongside all the others. Given the traditional F, F & F penchant for bread and, secondarily, lobworm fishing it suits very well.

There are some clips, of varying quality, on YouTube and these certainly help but it is quite a technically tricky method and, as such, requires some explanation. It does however involve one of the most ingenious ideas one will ever come across to avoid fish feeling the resistance of the pole when biting.

Given the difficulty in explaining this in words alone I am planning a detailed post shortly. Appetite whetted? I do hope so.

Between half and a whole dozen paragraphs ago I seem to recall suggesting this section might be about the Leam, and so it is - now.

The pleasure in this type of small stream fishing is so much more than anyone can convey in words. Even the likes of David Carl Forbes and Tony Miles limited themselves largely to the 'how' rather than the 'why' when putting pen to paper on their now iconic publications on the subject.

For this humble follower of the angle the harder and more unlikely the acquisition of a bite may be, the more pleasure is to be derived in its pursuit.

Last weekend the colour remained strong, as did the flow
, and the banker roach swims were targeted. At this time our maritime climate was not struggling to burst over a trio of degrees as it has been these past few days.

Targetting known roach pegs and lowering the feeder neatly on or inside the crease line in the first swim, 8m from where I took my first Leam roach over a pound four or five seasons back, the indicator soon plunged down that hole and the wrath of a worthy sparring partner was engaged.

Now in a narrow, snag-strewn water, this was undoubtedly chubby crunch time. I use a heavy carp-style pole elastic for this job to take account of the heavy flow, depth, weight of feeder and the fish and, it may sound surprising, but the fight of even this 3lb plus chub was no match for the incredible subduing qualities of this latex. It is much easier to keep the fish where you want it as, held high over the head of the fish, the pull and power of the pole itself is cushioned but at the same time so are the movements of the fish and, as long as joints are not unshipped until the quarry is beaten, it can be netted without fear of falling foul of those habitual last minute lunges into weed and roots by your feet.

A very nice Leam chub of 3lbs 4ozs resulted followed by a couple of nice roach.

I then fished the banker swim and sat it out with coarsely liquidised bread in the feeder and nips of flakes on the hook. Roach came after two drops had put a little bait into the water and a series followed up to ten ounces for an enjoyable net of four pounds four ounces in conditions under which one would not have believed it possible without the benefit of this method.

The fish do tend to wander in coloured water, moving up and down and side to side, presumably in reaction to flow changes and it is necessary to work your way around the area on streams such as this to stay in touch. One thing is noticeable though and that is that if there are feeding fish present you will catch them immediately.

Just this last weekend produced a larger chub at 3.7.0 on an 8m Pole with this method, landed comfortably even after it went under a snag but the usual slack line trick saw him come out again. A few nice roach and the odd dace completed the scene.

A three pound chub is a noteworthy fish on the Leam these days and two in a week is a very welcome reward for applying a relatively new-found method.


North Oxford Canal

This past weekend it was seriously chilly on the bank. Although the air temperatures were higher than on frosty days beforehand, the bitter easterly breeze drove sleet into the cheeks like a dominatrix ice queen.

The first two sheltered pegs produced just a lone 10 ounce roach by way of consolation for having braved it.

The fish knew. They sat in the open water with the Siberian blow straight in the face .

I was supposed to pick The Boy Wonder up at ten (no, he hadn't fallen over) but, due to the age old communication issue with those of a certain age, would not respond to messages, so I would have been senseless not to. Just as I was losing hope anyway up popped the float in a hideous waving lift bite and, as I struck, the wished-for giant roach to ease the misery of the conditions really did appear to be fighting back. The water was clear to about 20" down, almost too clear, and so the need to stop the fish swirling on the surface was essential.

Consequently it was some time into the scrap that a hybrid of 1.8.0 came into view, not a roach but boy was it a welcome sight on that morning.

As I alluded to in a recent post, a roving shoal can suddenly present a flurry of action and four bites in four drops ensued; an immediately following 12 ounce roach; a 6 ouncer, dropped-off when I was being too ambitious, or maybe frozen, to net it, and a missed bite.

...and that was that, but glowing-faced proof that in the harshest of conditions pleasure is to be had for those sufficiently intrepid to search.


In Conclusion

In closing, one would hope that the rain continues. I note this morning that the local rivers have risen and peaked today after more rain at the weekend.

After the first deluge put the rivers very high, and over the road in places, any additional rain has been slow to enter the them due to previously waterlogged ground and freezing conditions. These factors appear jointly to affect things in that the water logging ensures that pretty much any level of subsequent rain affects the level and colour of the water and the frost locks water into the ground thus making the levels stay high and relatively stable longer due to its gradual release.


Winter Big Canal Roach Challenge 2016/17

The complete list of 1lb+ fish thus far:


Leamington Angling Association Newsletter, January 2017.

Rough River and Small Stream Fishing. David Carl Forbes (Cassell, 1977).

Big Fish from Small Streams, Tony Miles (Little Egret Press, August 2013). 

Monday, 30 January 2017

The Power of the Stream

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Cold, Clear and Chubby

It was never going to be warm...


Canals would be frozen, as would small lakes and with high water having run-off the local upper Avon and Leam these offered the only options. As I've been in eight minds for every trip lately, two choices would prove a bonus.

Saturday the Avon was shrouded in freezing fog and thick frost. The little pond by the gate somewhat remarkably not completely crusty.

Tee shirt, thermal layer, grandad tee, thick shirt, microfleece, fleece gilet, thick fleece, thermal padded coat with zipped-in lining. 9 layers and nothing was getting through this.

Minus two on arrival, but it's been worse. Since my water thermometer became zander bait no temperatures have been taken but I suspected the river would have been around 4degC.
  The colour had dropped out more than expected but that seems to be common with this river these days, quite why is beyond me. The Leam would hold it longer.

As I approached a water rail was silently flushed across into the far side undergrowth and a pair of swans with a still clingy brown-mottled youngster dunked for breakfast.

Somehow I expected roach and it was a little liquidised bread cage feeder that sought to do the business.

 Third cast into the deep hole and a tentative bite was missed but immediately after that unmistakable drag round of the winter chub but it didn't fight like chub staying deep and not diving for the gathered uprooted weed under my feet until well into the battle. From thence he was scooped to the bank however and at 3.7 a nice start.

 In celebration a tiny chestnut bank vole tazzed among the stalks at my feet and was out of sight no sooner than he had been in it.

This was a late start. Firstly I had arrived after the usual faff with gates and as I unloaded realised I hadn't stopped for bread on the way. So the nearest option left me with a Marks & Spencer soft white thick sliced loaf.

"How would this compare with the Blue", I asked myself.

In practice it was a good substitute so if you're ever stuck it's another possibility, albeit medium would have been closer to the mark.

Consequently I contact fishing traffic control to advise of the landing error and was advised I had until lunch time to get over it so things weren't so bad...or so it seemed.

Thankfully the resident ravens kept me amused, as the fishing did not continue as it had started, and as I packed away lifting my seat to expose the last area of frost that hadn't yet thawed it felt a little anticlimactic. Just that one nice chub, always a pleasure in cold weather, but I should be thankful for a bite under such conditions.


The following day the second option was taken-up.

The Leam did indeed hold a touch more colour but, as before, it was obvious that the best had passed during the working week.

If Saturday had been the script for Sunday it wouldn't have been a surprise. A decent Leam chub of 2.10 early doors and then flushed green sandpiper and squealing water rail in the phragmites later when roving. Bites in every peg but all tiny tippy-taps and only two sub-sized fish, a roach and a dace to show for it.

A very confident Robin shared each of the first four swims in its search for egg sandwich crumbs and, even though each time I moved scraps would have been left behind, it somehow preferred the challenge of testing its bravery with me sat there.

I'd gone a good year or so away from this stretch until recently and it was incredible how it had changed. The floods can be quite impacting here and it showed in the changes where rafts had been lost and others formed; standing reed and rush beds flattened, dragged-out and reshaped; and whole trees removed. It was as if approaching a new venue in many areas and a few mental notes were made. Dace still lived in the same glide though, as did roach.

Through the meadow back to the car the standing water remained frozen as I cracked-on and with the ram looking a little more lively than some weeks ago I gave him and his flock a wide berth; not that he's ever defensive in his duties, but you never can be certain.


Back to the Avon.

The afternoon fog that appeared to be thickening suddenly slipped away on arrival but the water was clearer still. The flow however remained urgent as I again settled into the mysterious deep hole.

 Again a water rail squealed it's piglet-like call from the far bank and a steady approach, given the continuing cold weather, of liquidised bread in a 15g cage feeder and a smaller than usual flake hookbait combined with the more delicate than usual 9' wand.

A series of unhittable fiddly bites ensued and filled the first hour or more - then an unrelenting pull on the 3/4oz tip resulted in solid resistance.

The Boy Wonder trotted along and removed rod no2 which was dangling a lob down the edge and meanwhile the excellent little lead rod I was relying on that, it turned out, was attached at long last to that elusive for four years 4lb plus chub, coped as well as one with a blue chip reputation would be expected to.

The fish wasn't particularly long and initially it was puzzling as to why it was a struggle to lift it up the bank...until it came fully into view.

"How big do you think it is?", asked TBW.

" I think it's bigger than the one on Saturday but I'm not sure how much more".
Secretly however I felt it might just be tantamount to THAT fish. The fish I set out four years ago to extract from the Leam. A four pounder.
It was in 2016 that I started a new relationship with the Warwickshire Avon though, having been a regular BAA member decades ago. Many say the biggest fish have been removed by the dear old otter and that may well be true so a four pounder could prove to be of greater value than it might immediately seem as time passes.

When TBW asked how many ounces I needed I couldn't bring myself to say and simply asked what it read, praying to myself he would say more than 64.

"66.6", he exclaimed. It must be an omen for a similar Leam fish next surely.
Damien, the chub.
 4 pounds 2 ounces 10 drams. I became a bit Flintoffian.
We anglers often talk of scale or fin perfect fish and on that score this one took some beating
Strangely not the biggest F,F&F chub. That was a 4.6 specimen from a canal back in the 1990's. Okay it wasn't a River Leam fish but, so long in trying, it was very welcome nevertheless.
That ended the afternoon's action but that really was plenty, thank you very much.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Lame Duck & Dumb Luck

The barbers has that humid, shaving foam-perfumed atmosphere about it.

Outside the scene is hardly resplendent in its inundated monochrome state. Punctuated only by the ochre lettering of the art shop and the crimson of the takeaway.

The impenetrable ground lies glistening in the aftermath of the nights rain. Reflecting the drab street scape via myriad mirrored puddles.

A three hundred and sixty degree shearing - all but to the bone - the winter bites that bit more.

The forecast had been wrong. Instead of an increasingly emerging sun it was horizon to backdrop cloud, and rain non-stop soon after arrival.

The ducks feared not. Even the male Tufted that mistook two impaled maggots for wild food and was unceremoniously towed bankside for release. The flotilla of a dozen kept more distant after he got in a flap.

A small red-finned fish and a green and black striped one provided the only other major distraction, excepting the ever present long-tailed tit flock, an apparently starved robin and a frequently perching but never diving kingfisher.

That was then.


Now, two subsequent days of almost unending rain have left the rivers in pre-peak state.

Tomorrow or the day after maybe.

So again I find myself at the reservoir that currently guarantees a few bites and a chance of roach sufficiently grand to make the heart race.

Noting that the fish have been at the source of any ripple on all visits. The casts are made across that line, 30 and 40m distant, but it's tough. Fish again show in the same location relative to the breeze but further off, beyond range.

Eventually a twang and a perch of one pound, one ounce digs it's way to the net for a swift return.

Soon though a gutterally coughing cave dweller arrives and sets-up part of the necessary barrow-load where those roach had topped earlier-on.

Fifteen minutes later the shoal, flushed from their natural intentions, move across the baited traps and both are triggered within seconds of each other...1 hook struck-off in excitement, the second a good roach, the best yet in recent visits at 1.4.6, nestles in the dark mesh...and that was that.

This kind of experience, particularly with roving roach shoals, has been evident a number of times over the years and proves that the possibility of action never disappears if the target is in motion and that tiny fragment of luck can turn disaster to apparent worthy effort.

Commitment, agility of thought, application, skill, planning. They all have their part in narrowing the angles but luck, how does the angler gain control of that factor? Well he or she doesn't of course but it certainly becomes more likely the more thoroughly those first few elements are addressed.

Monday, 9 January 2017

A Climate of Uncertainty

The local climate in the period since Christmas has been so changeable as to make it almost impossible at times to select a suitable location for a few fish. Not so much gradual global warming as continuing local chaos.
The Avon & Leam; Grand Union & Oxford canals and various stillwaters could all have all been on the agenda but for a variety of reasons there have been times when none of these were likely to work-out favourably.
Ice, rain, wind direction, clear water, fluctuating temperatures, etc., detrimentally influenced each in different ways.
Under such circumstances one tends to seek comfort in what one knows best. Usually canals, in these instants.
Anyone who follows these ramblings will realise that in the world of F, F & F eliciting a bite against the odds is of considerably greater value than a guarantee of, for instance, a net full of tame carp from a sold(not to say souled)-out mud puddle.
In stillwater terms it has become increasingly difficult to find naturalised ponds, lakes and reservoirs. Largely a result of the glint of gold that continues to sparkle in eye of certain water owners as lead by CRT.
A couple of birding trips resulted in a very active long-tailed duck and a couple of pairs of red-crested pochard of note. Which, on the one hand, brightened the intermittent angling consternation but, far more importantly, made for a very enjoyable change while The Dog descended this year with his First Lady for a few very happy days indeed
In the immediate aftermath of the festivities, mild, calm conditions prevailed and fish were relatively easy to fool, albeit at their own somewhat steady speed, and to find roach freely topping at dawn at my current reservoir-side haunt put them under potential threat. Catches of between 3 and 8 pounds-odd of fish that peaked at one pound four ounces with a smattering of perch eased the depressingly unbearable burden of being off work for a few days quite nicely.

Roach to 1.4.2
 The GUC managed to cough-up a nice zander of over 3.5lbs, with proportionately the biggest tail you ever did see, when partly frozen. This was highly likely another p.b. (had the scales not been in the garage!) but that will never be confirmed. Following this the combined GUC & Oxford canals produced a 2lb bream and a roach immediately after thawing on a particularly hard birthday session.
The birds have been affected too and as this is being written, long-tailed and blue tits, goldcrest and blackbird devour fat balls, winter flies and fallen apples out of the window, beyond the bridge. Grey squirrel chase and tumble through ivy and hazel while a robin serenades longingly, yet with a hint of resignation, into the still moist air. All dreaming of the hectic spring to come one might surmise.
Today though, the onset of mild weather again lead us back to the canal feeder lake that had offered-forth festive gifts of 5 tench to 5.9, 20-odd roach to 1lb+ and smaller perch two weeks ago.
It was a risk.
It would have been frozen yesterday morning but the likelihood of increased temperatures, cloud & fog meant low light levels and consequently roach in the sought-after bracket of 1lb+ would be possible...if they fed.
The method settled-on over those previous sessions is to fish two rods, one at 25-45m and the other at 60m and while the furthest of those has resulted in the most bites and fish all of the pound plus roach have fallen at around 25 to 30m.
The second roach today was 1.1.14 and an hour or so later a slightly larger version at 1.4.2. A total catch of 8lbs 5ozs comprising 13 fish including 3 perch for good measure was the bag and the confirmation that the bigger roach were closer-in helped in taking-up HonGenSec's idea to fish the float into dark. In fact, had it not been foggy that would have been the method of choice this very day.
The two biggest roach on top
Tomorrow it is then!
Arriving at 2.45 to set-up and get some bait trickling into ten feet of slightly tinged water before dark, the atmosphere had that feel of impending rain about it as the clouds dragged their heels over the broad tree-scattered landscape to the south-west.
The water was calm without a ripple to spoil it other than the tufted duck. A group of six that motored inwards with unstinting confidence at each blast of maggots, and out again once realising that the bait had gone by the time they would have arrived.
HonGenSec had started when we arrived, as is the norm, but pursued a similar method.
The Boy Wonder was to stick with the tried and trusted at 30m.
There is little to add other than despite this list from TBW's necessaries being at home - rods, landing net handle, head-torch - he stole my spare rod and took a 2lb tench (his first) from water just over 4degC while HGS and I blanked with aplomb.
 Kids! (Again)
A barn owl shrieked early evening and remained unseen but it's certainly back to Plan A next time.
Tomorrow it wasn't. However, if you don't ask the question...
The roach in the venue seem very likely go bigger than 1.4. Bigger fish top occasionally, although it is possible they are hybrids as two have been taken 1.8 in this brief period since mid-December but there are another couple of areas to try, as well as The Stillwater to revisit when conditions seem right.
Hope, motivated by good advice and that essential slice of luck, does not shirk from springing eternal and there is plenty of the winter to go at yet
 I would very much like to mark the sad passing of Tony Miles with just a few words.
I did not know Tony well though I had met and exchanged emails with him a number of times in the past two or three years but he was clearly a very open, amiable man with a huge wealth of angling knowledge that he was keen to commit to print in books, blogs and various publications in order to help others.
It is always an immeasurably great loss when such giants of any sport take their knowledge with them and, while he could never convey all of the nuances of his chosen path to his contemporaries and effectual descendants in angling, we can all be thankful that much of his knowledge is not lost through his so eloquently articulated writings.
Certain angling names trip off the tongue in a hallowed cluster:
Richard Walker, Ivan Marks, Chris Yates, and Co. Tony Miles unquestionably falls in that same echelon. Humble yet ground-breaking anglers all. 

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Merry Christmas!

A Merry Christmas to One and All, here's to a rather more encouraging 2017 than the autumn of 2016 has been.

Yes, and HonGenSec is out there this afternoon. Dedication.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

A Win Bonus in Tough Times?

The Stillwater is tough. 

So tough that a bite is at the very least a pleasant surprise and, more often in fact, something of a shock.

A couple of weeks ago I felt that floundering feeling when I wasn't enjoying my fishing enough as it seemed to have become directionless and predictable. Too many stretches of canal had turned clear and the banker stretch, although in perfect trim, could only be enthused over so many times.

A decision was made.

Target roach on all venues.

It started with blanks. In fact Monday would have been my sixth consecutive, but no one said it would be easy.

The Stillwater was too still, however I did see some quality fish topping at dawn which gives me future hope, but wind and colour are required.

The hours I whiled away on the banks were exceptional for bird life however and precisely fifty species were listed topped by a fantastic winter visiting firecrest plus a few brief glimpses of an otter bubbling it's way eastward in search of that which I could not find. That tiny bird was the harbinger of what we Burtons call a 'Let's Weep!' moment, such as I last felt when discovering my first ever Dartford warbler in Dorset. Magical.

No bites ensued in two visits and the next thing to make me emotional was meeting a good old friend or two by chance in the tackle shop. About fifteen years they reckon it had been. Cue selfies, tales of days gone by and, I'm told, Facebook may subsequently have been involved, though that is beyond my oldfangledness.

On a tip-off I decided to fine-tune the roach method on another pond where I might get a bite before returning when conditions would be right in search of the prey of palpitations.

As I used to think as a match angler..."You learn nothing if you're not getting any bites".

Arriving before dawn, good fish topped all round with the increasing light and just occasionally some real specimens rolled too.

Fishing two rods at 30m with maggot feeders it was second cast with each rod that the action started and continued unabated until I cut the flavouring from the feeder by way of a reverse experiment and the bites immediately ceased. Amazing proof.

Archie Braddock - you were right, as we're my informal mentors. I was tempted to call them Mentors A & B but that implies a hierarchy so I'm going with Mentor P and Mentor I. I suspect they will become MP and MI in no time...oh, they already have.

Roach, Rudd and a solitary perch completed a lively two hour session with nine pounds of fish which included the golden prize of a rather sneaky p.b. Rudd of 1.2.

Next day the air was a little less welcoming at three degrees but I had a couple more things to try out and so headed to the same peg again. This time for a quarter short of two hours but the hoped-for big roach showed themselves for the first hour of daylight once more.

Second cast again with each rod and two fighters were on the bank. Initially disinterested, but increasingly keen to get away the closer to the bank they came, the unmistakable fight of unseasonal tench was upon us. One could have been lucky, two worthy of comment but to take four up to 5.2.11 was just plain silly. Add to this two roach and three perch, all around ten ounces each and the sixteen pound catch in one and three quarter hours summed-up a commercial-esque(!) session I could never have seen coming.

The second tench, or tenchlet at 1.6, carried festering growths in the roots of its fins and so I slipped it back and thus avoided infecting the keepnet. Photographs are now with the holding club and their experts are on the case to pursue it further. Deer stalkers donned and magnifying lens in hand as I write no doubt.

I think the wind is on the rise in a few days' time, so, having ironed-out a few wrinkles in the method, it's back to The Stillwater to try to tempt the untemptable but until then this alternative is too good to miss for December. Those bigger early-priming roach are there to be had too. The lake is the source of the roach p.b. on stillwaters at 2.1.8 of three decades ago, the best of a magnificent brace and a day when, just minutes later, The Old Duffer nabbed one for himself of 2.0.8 to confirm the venue pedigree.

This morning with, again, very little time to play with, it was back to attempt to tease out those bigger roach that had been active early, a fortunate by-product of this rig-testing industry. It had been a brief frost yesterday evening but, with temperatures due to soar up to 6degC before dawn with some cloud and rain in the early hours, the likelihood of tremulous tench yet ravenous roach became too tempting to ignore.

On arrival it was actually seven degrees but the breeze was biting and I'd forgotten my trousers, or at least my thermal over-trousers, and had to sit like some old(er) boy with a jumper over my thighs looking distinctly as though my carer had cleared-off in search of someone more spritely.

I fancied two options:
A maggot feeder at 30-35m and a flavoured maggot feeder at 60m, both with maggot hook baits.

The result:
4 bites to the flavour in 2.25 hours fishing, all hooked and landed. Zilch on the other. Now there's no doubt that Archie, MI & MP were right.

Encouraging one pound fish to the bank with a slightly over-gunned rod and careful use of the clutch has been interesting in that it has really enabled the identification of the fish by fight characteristics quite easily

So the week ended with a less numerous catch but a nice weight of eight pounds-odd comprising this lovely, yet thermally confused, tench of 5.9:

A probable roach X rudd hybrid of a gnats under a pound:

and two of these chunky footballers:

With an approaching ten days or so to tackle various venues, and the weather looking settled there's genuine optimism in the air, and the water I hope