Sunday, 25 September 2016

Bewilderment and Delight.

Blackberrying swans
Poised waiting for a blaze of colour to lift through the ripple following the first wave of flashing silver, thoughts turned to the ingenuity, and downright usefulness, of the tools at hand.

Not having in the slightest a mechanically-inclined mind, I wonder at the complexity and longevity of our angling fathers' inventiveness.

Surrounded by evidence of it, it falls under analysis.

The engineering skill of the balance, power and, 'tween times, rigidity of the rod itself is something all angler's appreciate and covet to suit their needs but the smaller points, the stand off rings for instance, to keep the line off a wet blank, holding it parallel and in perfect unison with its curve. I could never have thought of that.

The float I understand. It is quite easily possible to understand how, over time, by tweak of twig and finesse of feather, they appeared and evolved into today's myriad options. Historically what made the tackle shop akin to a sweet shop of course. No more however.

Even the very simplest of ideas, the slot cut into individual lead gun shot for attachment to line, or gut as it may have been then, is quite beyond my own perception as a concept.

Of course the ubiquitous 3/8" thread and it's perfectly matching socket, so widely used and recognised as standard by default, is in itself pure genius. Simple but effective, as they say.

For me though, the peak of the mesmerising array of imagination beyond my most bizarre of dreams is the reel, and while the fixed-spool reel, and perhaps indeed the closed-face version, represent the most advanced and intricately engineered equipment available to us, if aesthetics and elegance are factors in that pageant, then surely the centre-pin epitomises the ultimate in inventive beauty.

Where would we be without such advancements? Propelling the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune blindly into the murky depths and starved of release from it all no doubt.

How lucky we are.

Anyway, enough of this fanciful tripe...

Canal and small river roach have been calling this week.

The Leam, from which four over a pound have been enticed these past 4 years (is that all?) played it's usual clear river game and offered up nothing bigger than seven ounces or so.

Rain required.

The Grand Union however, while being awash with bream at times, almost to the exclusion of all else it regularly seems, bore spangled fruit in the shape of four roach that hit the 1lb+ target, topped by a beauty of 1lb 7ozs 6drms.

This, the second largest so far from this increasingly potent canal, was taken, as is the way of things, early morning, on a large chunk of flake having plundered a nearby swim at dawn for 8lbs of thickly mucus-basted bronzes.

I confess to allowing myself just a brief, though admittedly slightly guilty - being alone - beaming smile of delight.

This very Sunday morning a slightly better overall catch of 13lbs overall, including a bream of precisely 3lbs, included a jewel of 1.4.2 first cast.

Thankfully the big roach nearly always come to the bait first while the bream hang-off, pondering the prospect. After that though I do fear they get bullied-out.

The Big Canal Roach list (all GUC) thus far, after two weeks, looks very much like this:

The game is afoot with a vengeance. Roll-on the next break in play.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Every Loaf has a Silver-lining

The feeling of being cocooned in a hot chammy leather is as conducive to good fishing as snow melt. The two extremes of pointless angling activity.

Thankfully the tench campaign ended in July, having eventually traversed the boredom threshold in the same swim with the same birds, and reaching the point at which the resident bank vole acquired a name..."Vikram". Time to move-on.

A target of ten fish from the most reluctant of stillwaters was set and slowly but surely over the month from the first bites on June 16th, via sightings of dog otter, small and large skippers, greenshank and hobbies the list grew. Only on two occasions did more than one of these beautiful fish lay on the well-worn bank, being the occasions of the first and last landings. Three on the first day, two on the last. The latter causing brief mental turmoil as it took the total to eleven. To fish on until 20? No,  boredom cannot be extended that long. Eleven would do fine.

So what next?

HonGenSec had been pushing for an answer but nothing had gripped the psyche. A new peg is all-but ready elsewhere on the Stillwater for a late summer/autumn bream campaign.

It's a funny time of year, late summer. Personally, without doubt, the least engaging fishing period.

But school holidays have now been and gone and the prospect of a canal campaign presented itself, but, being that hinting at autumnal time, an early start isn't so early as to encourage a couple more minutes sleep.

Small rivers appeal too but not high reaches as would remain akin to a bottle brush in a gutter, with reeds and rushes bank to bank. No, somewhere a touch less narrow with steady depth - that would do nicely.

So we've settled on the Upper Avon and 'middle' Leam combined with Oxford and Grand Union Canals and the challenges are:

Roach over 1lb
Chub 4lbs.
Plus and other good fish that come along be they chub, dace, etc

Roach - To add to the 1lb+ list (now totalling around 100 since rejoining the throng 4 or 5 years ago) but secretly looking for fish over 1lb 8ozs.
Silver bream over 1lb.
Plus, again, anything else tempted and of good size; bronze bream, perch, chub, zander.

So, with all that set, battle commenced...

Initially, it took well into the third trip before it really became engaging and pleasurable again after the obligatory summer break but sure enough with that early chill in the air the chase, spirit and sight of that first rutilus hitting the target did the trick and suddenly there aren't enough early mornings in a day, surely there should be at least three?!

The first of many, it is to be hoped

Having squeezed much of previous years' pursuit into the short North Oxford Canal this autumn the Grand Union locally is taking the brunt. After a couple of very promising fish last winter and genuine reports of fish pushing 1lbs 8ozs what size roach can the GUC offer?

One thing is for certain. The right technique will sort them out if they're there...and so the search has begun.

Finding target fish in the rivers will be a touch more hit & miss but slowly a picture will form, just the same.

Initial Grand Union roach findings are promising. The first target fish to grace the net being half an ounce over the mesmeric pound and, this very morning, on this first day after temperatures dropped from balmy 20+ degrees C., a first bite fish of 1.4.6 took centre stage in a mixed catch with some skimmers. It was landed to the call of a scarce Northants tree pipit.

Best of the short campaign yet at 1.4.6 thanks to tip-off from a long-lost friend

A nice net for 2 1/2 hours' fishing

On Wednesday however the silver lining illuminated wide-eyes and orange/pink fins when blikka bjoerkna came to the irresistible Warburton's blue feast laid out before it, at 1.11.8 this silver bream was probably the highest %age record weight of any species caught previously, made even more incredible by its canalised habitat. The record being just 3lbs 5ozs and canal record most likely Russell Hilton's 2.4.8 fish from the last Bloggers' Challenge.

Running the many photographs taken against various physical features for certainty became ever more exciting as the truth emerged from the fish i.d. mincer

Big-eyed silver bream dwarfing a perfect roach of 1.2.5

The catching of this fish however proved costly on the bite detection front with two of my 'best' lift-bite floats wrecked in the process. Ebay is being scoured but a suitable pattern for this technique on canals ain't that easy to uncover

Close at hand are numerous feature-filled stretches of all selected waters and so the prime spots could take some narrowing-down but it's mid-September and spring does not contemplate lubricating it's coils for 4 or 5 months yet. Time will be the angler's companion, for now and HonGenSec has his answer.

****STOP PRESS****
...and last night 8 degrees C with clear skies. We're on the cusp

Thursday, 23 June 2016

An Exponential Curve

Well the time has come and with the start of the traditional coarse fishing season so too an up-swelling of blogging all round. It is important to us then after all, respecting the close season where required

Learning curves are always described as steep (unless you are an England footballer or manager in which case the curve is a straight horizontal line. 'Experts', 'pundits' like to use the word exponential in relation to this subject without any clue as to its meaning) and since returning to angling a few years ago this spring has been the steepest I've consequently known; with a ready supply of current, proven and openly shared information to hand it's showing no sign of levelling-off

It's all very well reading the continually regurgitated claptrap in contemporary glossy angling magazines but you simply cannot beat understanding the background logic associated with the necessary tackle, rigs and bait when hatching a plan to ambush the odd fish, and that I've had in spades thanks to very generous and approachable mentors this spring

For me the sharing of ideas is fundamental, without it an individual will stagnate and miss the simplest of key tricks. This can also happen within a closed clique of anglers of course but it is less likely especially if there are driven, progressive minds involved

Even as a match angler I was very open with any successful ideas within whichever group I formed a small part and expected the same from others, though it wasn't always forthcoming

The, admittedly 20-year, step between grease-suspended wire-tipped pole floats and bite alarms; the step from a single squatt to multiple rubber maggots (it's not even real bait for chrissakes!) or from a light canal pole to 4.5lbs t.c. spod rod could not have been higher and, converting the step to a curve, it would be very easy to slide back down it...were it not for the fact that small fish seem so relatively pointless at this stage of proceedings - or should I say, life?

In many respects the change from the very lightest match fishing to using old pseudo and actual carp gear for non-carp big fish hunting would have been much easier had there not been such a gap in angling interest and had the onset of age not occurred, but, what was right then was right for good reason and what is right now likewise

If anyone out there has been reading these, recently ever less frequent, musings since the beginning of FF&F time, and also has a very good, nay exceptional, memory, then that person may recall that when big canal fish, especially roach, became the thrust of the new approach around four years back, there was no certainty as to where this little sojourn might lead. Some things were cast in stone however, it would never result in pursuit of big carp at the cost of all else, nor, would it involve:
  • commercial fisheries,
  • bite alarms, or,
  • fishing chairs!
Now open/broad mindedness is never a bad thing as long as one is prepared to filter-out the dross and spot the beneficial aspects of the subject matter, (back to angling magazines again!) so when the advice came that bite alarms would be necessary that was going to prove a bleep too far and just there was where the line would be drawn, or just before it rather than through or after it, to be more precise

After all that's not fishing is it? Just sitting there waiting for something to trip over the bait, then landing the fish, oh!, and did I mention that they'd hook themselves too?! No that's not fishing, it's just getting out of the house with a new name

So how does one see a bite at 90 yards exactly, which is where the bait needs to be because that's where the fish patrol and you can't steer them away like a roving shoal of starving canal roach?

On a float?...yeah sure

A quivertip?...possible on the face of it but the only option is tightened-up at that range. Unreliable, lacking necessary finesse to read bites and there's the fundamental issue of the rod tip being so soft yet needing to punch-out  two to three ounces and play fish back that distance, through weed, etc. No, that's not gonna work

So, yes okay, we'll go for the helicopter rig and self hooking set-up then. It really is the only option

As the weeks ran into months since the 2015/16 Bloggers' Challenge ended (with a resounding and not to say extremely well deserved overall win by James Denison who was head and shoulders above all-comers throughout really but, for me, the pinnacle was his exploits with big dace. The smallest of proper angler's fish but a fish over the pound is a mighty specimen and as important as any other big fish capture. Russell Hilton put in a superb effort doing it the hard way with largely canal fish for second place, again including some true specimens. I do look forward to doing it all again next year with a year's break between challenges on the cards. A situation I for one welcome as such a competition can become all-consuming and the opportunity to relax into some casual angling each alternate year is equally appealing), where was I? Ah yes, weeks running into months. That's another challenge took root

As I have recounted before The Stillwater has been a baffling experience. One would be forgiven for thinking there are no fish other than (some) small roach and the occasional carp but of course the tales filtering back from others confirms this not be the case

This spring I took it upon myself to make it work, or else find other options that suited my more active style of fishing, and it was at this point that I was coincidentally offered help in discussion with some long-standing members who must have seen some bizarre signs of promise/desperation in this old boy and who have subsequently been so generous for it to be almost embarrassing for me but it is so gratifying to find there really are still people out there in this otherwise often almost cut-throat world where knowledge is king and therefore selfishly protected by many (you know who you are guys!)

Slowly the pieces of the picture have slotted into place until June 16th, yes really - June 16th. With the start of the season my first bite on all this fancy gear I shot up out of my...erm...chair (I'm just keeping it active for someone else you understand, a bit like an old sports car). The closest I had come prior to that was the previous week when the alarm screamed, the bobbin hit the top and then struck the soil like a stainless steel stone...and then a clumsy great crested grebe surfaced and it had all been tantamount to a dream

But June 16th that was different. The bobbin lifted steadily, like it meant it and wasn't going to be put off its course, and stayed there. The hook was home and the fight began. Soon a doctor fish, so scarred it needed a vet anyway, was in the net and the battle had just begun. He went 3.8.8 (I refuse to give up my drams wherever possible!) and fought like a little demon
3lbs 8ozs of pocket battlefish
Now I knew that any bite would result in a p.b. it was fact wasn't it? We'll obviously not. Contrary to the likelihood and advice of others I had prepared myself for a less than exuberant start to this the last throw of the dice at The Stillwater. So, although I really was thrilled, I prayed this was only the start and suddenly confidence was lifted. If there's one there'll be others 

I must qualify this by saying that sitting there in this new found 'let me know when you're ready dear fishes' scenario was not in anyway against the grain once I'd got used to the idea. In fact, wait for it, I'd actually say it was better than my previous post-match fishing middle ground approach as it allowed me to bird and nature watch much more easily. My ancient trusty binoculars sit comfortably within reach, by my side, with mega-zoom camera and various phone-based lists are compiled. Where's the drawback?

Well of course there isn't one, its a massive step forward for this naturalist who happens to be an anger. A trip out is so much more than fishing again, or maybe for the very first time(s), now I can list almost every raptor that passes or passerine that cheeps; spy those small mammals nibbling on the kek or toad that ambles past and even take an interest in bee-mimicking hoverflies

That ain't no bee. The eyes have it
The fishing technique has been fascinating, not just because it is so new but also due to the intricacies of aspects one would not come-up with alone without many months, if not years, of trials but that I have been able to short cut by asking (too many) questions as each issue arose. Hook type, tail length, knot choice, relative position of rod/rest/bobbin/alarm, hook bait, feed, time of day, weather conditions, time of year, where to sit, how to cast, keeping fish out of weed. You name it I've asked it and within, I'd estimate, the space of just 3 weeks the results have shown themselves to reflect the fact of the true matter at hand here which is never criticise something until you understand it, and I for one have been somewhat guilty of this in the past simply because I enjoyed what I did and, I suppose, wished everyone else could enjoy it too

So, thanks to 'mentors anonymous from an unnamed stillwater' life is great. Oh, and did I mention that the tench p.b. did break, twice in fact, and subsequently shot-up from the previous 4.7.0 to 5.12.0 and then a significant jump to 8.8.1 (for me a true specimen) between 16th & 22nd June?

5.12.0 and (then) p.b.
Massive fins of the male
...and that iconic head with tiny red eye, suggesting a daylight feeder
The current p.b. then at 8lbs 8 ounces. A, probable partly spawned-out, female. A nine pound fish a few days prior?
So, the moral of the story is don't fish during the close season. The fish know! Plus they are still feeding now:

The swim this very day at 6.30am
And it's all down to being inquisitive and putting the answers into practice. Then, as is my unavoidable wont, I can look for that further 'edge' once I am reasonably fully versed (I can't stop myself there)

Just commercial fisheries to change my mind about next then. Now that would a challenge for somebody!

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Migrating into Spring

Struggling to reach the 90-odd yard target in a brisk easterly the birds become ever more enchanting. As they have this past fortnight with the traditional unpredictable feeding of close season fish pushing interest in that direction.

It would have been easier to have targeted and plundered the canals at what is a peak time for their unsuspecting larger inhabitants but I fancy something more exciting, potentially shocking even, having met that challenge head-on 3 years running, and have now largely plumped for fish so large I cannot imagine what kind of mental turmoil they will spread once banked.

The largest fish I have ever admired on the bank was a pike sneaking gently into double figures this past winter...canals produce very little of that calibre!...yet that fish, and large still-water predators in general, leave me somewhat cold.

Meanwhile as I sit awaiting that one hell-breaking loose bite the migrants are flooding in. Martins and Swallow, warblers and a first Cuckoo, turning the real world from a winter rustle to an exuberant spring the moment they alight on this island.

In a massively converse parallel the last remaining golden eagle in England is 'missing, presumed dead'. A twenty year-old male without a mate in recent years and the last of his majestic kind. Hopefully the strong Scottish population will burst over the border and repopulate in the future but how likely is it, really, that they could survive in this land where disturbance is now standard, nay encouraged, and habitat diminished?

Having spent the first few weeks of the bloggers challenge seeking the impossible so do I end it in the same vein. Sadly I'm no Martin Bowler. I do however have some exceedingly generous mentors in this big fish hunting lark and so the possibilities are narrowed such that with a touch of luck one never knows it might just happen.

A singular sortie towpath-side did add a pound or so to the Zander column a week ago and offered a reminder of what a fish feels and looks like after so many bite less hours in a new world. A first ever canal fish on a dead bait too. How times have changed!

Somehow the contrasts of light lift-bite float fishing for pound roach and link legering lobworms for perch via free-lining for chub on a small river, to feeder and float fishing maggots and hemp for tench to this little lot...

...seems a nice mix of possibilities. It simply requires a full year of matching the application of techniques and tactics with correct seasonal timing to see what might just be possible.

And that's where I do struggle.

Ag'in the likelihood of this monster capture sits the advice Hon Gen Sec supplied at 7.37am one recent morning that The Stillwater, erm water, is 5°C colder than this time next year.

Surely I meant 'last year' there didn't I?

Yes I did.

So, the decision was taken not to throw absolutely everything into this project but to slip in the odd canal-side sojourn too. Not least to maintain hope and, thereby, sanity.

Armed with this wise tactic I managed just under 2 hours on the Grand Union in my silver bream haunt thinking that the sheer numbers of fish present must, in turn, mean sheet size of predators. Certainly it is the only stretch of canal I know where great crested grebes fish daily.

This was the result. A catch of 10lbs 4ozs:

...and although I was secretly hoping for a decent zander or indeed a pike the only run on a roach head met with no connection but the bread line added some 26 inadvertent points to the Bloggers' Challenge by way of a rudd of 0.15.8; a surprise, and always welcome, bonus tench of 1.14.8 and a lovely silver bream, right on cue, knocking the P.B. door at 1.3.0

So maybe there is still hope in the challenge yet with around 20 days to go before Russell blows the whistle on the years competition.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Signs of Impending Reward

So steady weather floating above freezing is upon us and some consistency in approach can be relied upon for the time being

Let's face it, this is always the most difficult time of year to put fish in the net but, at last, there is some hope

Last week The Boy Wonder and I found an only partly frozen stretch of the Grand Union Canal, complete with its own little car park, which, despite being a more coloured than would be perfect, did offer some encouragement. For his part, chopped worm was to be the option while bread would, as always, be deployed on the next peg. As a secondary option, and with a hint at what was set to come, sleeper rods offering roach heads or tails on single hooks were also cast to features to check-out the predator potential

Pretty much straight-off the worm produced a nice perch and soon after a decent hybrid to bread but angling wise that appeared to be that. We dabbled with some lures but nothing lead us to conclude this was an ideal day for them

It was prime cheddar feeding time, a known fact with an iced surface of course. I had this tidy bag on a roach head and was close to competing with TBW's pair of boxers from the cut a few weeks back. 'Not taken one on a dead bait before

Charlie though had a problem. A rabbit carcass was floating in the water a couple of metres from the bank and the little fella decided it must be lunch. No spring chicken but, as would be seen, a springing mutt he was and so he leapt, headlong into the freezing water. His elderly handler had some literal action to undertake, instantly kneeling and hoiking the canine miscreant from the surface with a shrill and tremulous, "Charlie!, Charlie!". In a flash, what now appeared to be a mobile pink chammy leather, was back on formerly dry land and coughing like a woodbine-smoking micro-pig

"I think he fancied a swim", someone quipped. There were only three of us.

"He's never done that before", she said...and he wouldn't be doing it again judging by that cough. He'd've been covered in ice by the time he got back, and so would she, having instinctively picked him up to carry him home.

Poor old Charlie. I wonder if he lived.

Next day it was predator time at The Stillwater. TBW was feeling under the weather and fell asleep as we left home, waking some two hours or so later having missed the excitement of the first run.

Four runs later and we were no closer to actually hooking anything than Stuart Brad and so we slipped-off home to contemplate the next piscatorial half-volley

What followed was something of a fishing-fest...type, thing

The Leam produced nothing other than an interesting discussion with Stalwart Club Member of thirty years' experience on the water and a take from a less than two pound pike that showed an unrealistic yet fleeting attraction to a four ounce roach deadbait but saw sense as well as daylight when his gape released the unsuspecting corpse into the cold air

The Avon - a single chub of three pounds three ounces

The Canal - nothing

The Avon, again - a single chub of a pound and a half, but wait, there was more to that trip...

Hon Gen Sec did not believe there were rats present but each time I stayed after dark there they, it, was, scuttling under the phragmites debris, the punctured footballs (the rusting bicycles), ballcocks and plastic lighters

"But what would they eat?", he questioned. Bread mash, that's what

This rat was the Louis Smith of the rodent world. No speck or blob of mash was beyond his reach and, with the inability to see his beholder in red-filtered light, he wasn't leaving any for the mammals formerly known as long-tailed field mice in his super-rat efforts to clamber up and down the reeds, from land or water, seeking out every freezing splash. He did get a touch over-familiar toward the end, but then, he was a rat after all

The Stillwater again. Early morning. Completely still water. Two hours to take the challenge score higher, if only a pike would have a nibble. -4degC on arrival. Zero on departure. Between times - a single run. This time connected and again the multi-purpose Avon admirably dealt with this pilferer of the mirrored surfaced as the water burst to foam

The pike squirmed as it sought freedom on the bank but in excellent chunky pre-spawning condition it turned the scales to 177 ounces, less the bag at fifteen, ten pounds two ounces of living excitement. At last twenty-odd points to show for the effort

This leaves just two more weeks to try the same trick on the river and add anything else possible before that particular meandering avenue of alders is chopped down in March to regenerate in June

Oh yes!...and finally - the lamp shade needs wiping, somebody

Apologies to the Modfather himself

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Disruption and Discontent or The Fish won't Feed 'cos the Weather doesn't Know What to do Next

It's been a tough year for the angler thus far...and sheep. Thankfully the latter, with their special feet and woolly coats, can cling-on through the worst of weathers

If it hasn't been gales, heavy rain and rising filthy rivers it's been frozen canals, lakes affected by fluctuating temperatures and excessive colour in the waters. Not the greatest of recipes

The decision had been made to seek to gain blogger's challenge points on rivers or seek-out pike where their seasons are limited until March and then revert to still-waters and canals but it has proven almost pointless, in both respects

Until just this last Tuesday six consecutive blanks on a wide variety of all three categories of venue and numerous methods had been fruitless since the last week of January. It feels longer. Most of the visits didn't produce even the merest hint of a bite and none of them saw fit to offer reward with any sport at all

Then on Thursday three bites all hooked and two nice chub of 3.6.0 and 3.4.0, with one  perhaps a touch larger lost at the rim of the net, were offered-up by the Upper Warks Avon and, at last, razor blades were not a consideration for the journey home

The better of the brace added a measly two points to the challenge tally but it was a pleasant event adding that couple to the chart having been so long away from it. I estimate that the past four point-scoring fish have added a sum total of around 6 to the aggregate. Not great.

The winter birdwatching has been okay while out there sitting by a range of waters, the highlight of this was a small flock of siskin feeding on weather damaged alder in the glorious and thermal-layer eschewing sunshine of last Sunday, together with close-up views of treecreeper and the, ever confiding, long-tailed tit flock, and of course it's always a pleasure to see the immaculate and continually diving goldeneye.

Kingfishers have been abundant and a brown hare brightened a cloudy lakeside stroll with lures, though he seemed uninterested in an imitation perch, perhaps a fake blade of grass may have been more to his liking

It's quite incredible when I think back through the tactics used in that spell that link-legered bread and lobworm, free-lined lobworm, cage feeder with groundbait and maggot/worm/caster hookbait, lures, deadbaits, etc., etc., have all failed when in different conditions all would produce the necessary goods.

The fish simply shut down.

Even these wouldn't work
The weather hasn't been all bad though. When the river fell, and at the same time it was suitably cold, fantastical glistening pendants of ice formed as the stiffening receding waters clung on to strands of vegetation bent like small spinning rods to the lowering surface; extensive sheets of magically thin ice were left floating in the air over the shallows and those natural, but rarely seen, phenomena formed in the riparian margins turned boredom to wonder

A glimpse of the chocolate merlin commuting through her wintering quarters in the valley of the stream was enough to bring confirmation that sometimes it's acceptable to think all is well in the real world. Well enough for now anyway, pending a turn in fortunes

A planned day off was looking perfectly timed until the rains returned today and by the time those clouds are drained the rivers will be rising again, the lakes will be coloured by cold water and the canals likewise.

What are we to do?

The Boy Wonder and I satisfy ourselves by working-out imaginary comedy situations. An evolving episode of which currently involves a tramp working as a barrista in Nero, or Costa, or Starbucks, or somewhere. Anyway it was funny to us, wherever it was staged. He even found a better way to get his groundbait out to the middle of the lake...

Things became so bad on Sunday that I sat with the dead-bait line metaphorically tied to my toe, Huckleberry Finn-style, when the incredible quantity of, mainly plastic, refuse settled in the debris left behind by the receded Avon became interesting. I actually found myself sifting through it to see what I could identify, until I heard a rat scuttling below the land-based raft and thought better of inviting Weil's Disease upon myself

The badger footprints in the deposited silt were good though, among the rat impressions - not ones I had trodden on, I do mean the footprints


Mouse training -
Bubble still runs at the sight of anything that isn't known to her to be in her cage.
Squeak is now taking sunflower seeds from my fingers
...and I found out they can eat celery, which they love.

Blogger's Challenge -
Everyone is struggling in the Midlands and James just gets further and further in front with his ever-increasing dace, grayling, unicorn and other mythical beasts we can only dream of up here in Warwickshire. Next time I think it unquestionably necessary to handicap him like a champion race horse. I don't feel a weight disadvantage would help much though as he's probably fit enough to deal with that too. I'm leaning toward a straightforward ban, that should do it

Snow-caught Chub Challenge (commenced 2012/13) -
I have always loved seeing experts with their pictures of chub in the snow but it has not been until the past three or four years that I have tried it and, at last, in the most recent fall, it happened. Not huge at 2.6.0, and not the deepest snow cover, but welcome and an ambition achieved

Sunday, 10 January 2016


The Blogger's Challenge has reached a climatic impasse with the multifunctional weather restricting viable options for the time being

The rivers Avon and Leam have regularly visited local pastures and left behind remnants of their presence. The dropping temperatures have resulted in two Stillwater trips without so much as a sucked maggot. The canals have been reluctant to relinquish control of their inhabitants in the few areas not blighted by strong winds or heavily coloured water

Decisions on venues have been taxing with aerial mapping, weather forecasting and dawn/dusk app's taking a pasting prior to each trip

Yesterday and today, with winds of 20-odd mph and rain forecast, stretches of cut were selected which would not carry a great deal of suspended silt and that would be equally comfortable to fish

In terms of tactics, knowing that bites would be limited and experimentation therefore pointless, bread and lobworms would be my choices

Saturday, as I approached the likely area along the muddied towing path before first light, the turbidity looked healthily tinged for bread and equally suitable for worm. Justification possible

This area of the Grand Union was known to be populated by good bream and with a three pounder having eluded me all season another crack would not be time wasted given the lack of other options

A new bucket of lobworms had arrived this week offering fresh opportunity for predator fishing but previously little success had been found in this location, not that this was going to prevent trying

As usual of late, bites weren't instant but the 45 minute rule was again proven correct as a plodding lump was hooked after a hideously extravagant lift of the float signalled action approximately half an hour in but that was to be that

The worm line proved more entertaining as showers swept through and, thankfully, over the brolly I had taken the unusual trouble to pack and carry. A flurry of zander around the pound mark tore into the worm feed and bait but then that too went predictably quiet as daylight set fully in

Today it was to be the North Oxford Canal and I headed for the usual length for when the more attractive stretches are coloured by rain but, having fished there too many times over the last few waterlogged weeks and bored myself, it was time to turn right at the bridge and by way of variety. The breeze caught the surface in that unkempt 'too unsettled to ripple' manner the air has of creating false bow waves and depressions on the surface. Then, on the bend, rippling and a real chill

I toyed with a peg in the open opposite rushes but decided on a spot between a high hedge behind me and small willow and thorn bushes opposite. The far side looked shallow but there was a promising depth down the boat run and so it was this that I attacked, but then that will be no surprise.

Bread straight in front with mash spread over a five foot circle and chopped lobworm to my right toward the base of the near shelf

On this occasion bites were instant and it took some effort to drag my eyes away from the indicators to clock the various ravens, identifiable by their equally varied voices, flying back and forth over the raised landscape to the north of me. A good fight, not a bream, not a perch (on bread it wouldn't be), but the red fins were of course the give way. Another of those fish with an orange tinge to its flesh, this time on the chin. This one was going-on the for a pound and a perfect start to the day

From this moment for 30 further minutes both rods were very active and, as per a similar recent event, at one point I had a bite on the tip while landing a bream of 2.7.8. I netted the bream and then struck into and played a perch of 1.11.8 until it was beaten. I then hung it in the side against the quiver-tip with it pulling, weakened, against the rod along the near shelf while I unhooked the bream and then netted the perch and popped it too into the net

Common gulls occasionally swept down over the canal presumably sighting my struck-off pieces of bread but then turning sharply away upon realising that I was the source of these inadvertent offerings. The ever-present moorhens however were keen to steal them and delicately peck them to manageable pieces under the overhanging branches of the far bank

The fish kept coming for around three quarters of an hour with bites on whole lobs more closely spaced that the more intermittent yet very certain enquiries on bread flake and, with the smallest fish at eleven ounces the catch soon built-up although as many bites were missed on lobs due to the huge size of bait I was using, but, with a challenge canal perch of 2.11.0 already on the board, only a bigger one or a decent zander will trouble the virtual scorer

Again a couple of dogs were affeared of this hunkering shape by the water and one refused to come past me altogether. Yesterday a strange looking presumed spaniel-cross mutt with divergent eyes came right up and barked like a lunatic as I chatted to it. Prior to that a massively chunky golden retriever was equally on the back foot until it saw a friendly face under the hat and then was happy to approach on the way back. No bread was stolen this weekend though, oh no. When you're down to your last couple of slices...

So as the bites petered-out and with two dog walkers coming from the right I heard someone else passing from the left in extremely rustly clothing.

"Had much?", came the question.

I looked up to see a lure angler standing by my side right on the waters edge. Respect for other anglers came to mind but I kept my own counsel.

"A few bream", I replied, then "Oh, you're lure angling? I've had some decent perch on worm too if it's any help" (I could be polite at least).

Distracted by his presence I had not noted the first narrow-boat after day-break in stealth mode from the left but quickly removed both rods from the water.

His accomplice appeared, older and, seemingly somewhat better versed in angling etiquette, he stood back, albeit he was wearing red. Why is it that some lure anglers need no watercraft or subtle cladding and yet the rest of us can instinctively feel the fish drifting away if we make any kind of false move? I appreciate the technique requires a certain prominence to make it physically possible but really  

Off they wandered bemoaning the fact that my bites had dried-up and that they hadn't got up early enough. For my part I decided, "Time for breakfast" and exclaimed as such to yet another passer-by. Honestly I don't think anyone nearby could have slept Saturday night; there were two cyclists and a dog walker through with head-torches before it even got light, while I was unpacking the car in fact. Surely we anglers have the divine right to be there first. After all it's our job isn't it? What is going on out there?!

I slowly wiped the sloppy mud off everything in this quagmire of a length of bank and awaited the moment when no one was in sight to empty the net. The lure anglers came back past...nothing

"Do you tend to lose many lure's on snags in the canal?", I asked

"Not as many as we used to", came the reply

Make of that what you will

I shared the fact that The Boy Wonder had caught a pair of pants on two maggots last week, which summed-up our combined blanks, and off they went pushing more fish along in front of them

Many moons ago regular winter matches were run on the Leicester Line, or Arm, of the Grand Union in Northants and, early mornings, the water would often be quite clear. It was no coincidence that the anglers on the end pegs or those pegged where the towpath was shrouded in bushes, boats or rushes, would catch 'all' the fish. No, watercraft is not optional if one wishes to make the most of one's opportunities and maintain those of others

Anyway back to the subject. As I slopped around like a wallowing carp eventually the path cleared and I was able to lift the fish out to weight them one-by-one as I put them back. Five bronze bream, three perch and the roach. 9 fish for around fourteen pounds, six ounces and all caught before 8.30 a.m. when sunrise is at 07.30hrs. I couldn't recall my best catch from the NOXC but it wouldn't be far off this one way or the other

Then I had the idea of photographing one as it slipped out of my hand into the water...
It didn't go well

So as regards challenge points. I, for the fourth consecutive time, only managed to add the odd point for a three ounces larger bream than before. It really is getting difficult now and until the weather becomes more settled that will not change

I, somewhat sadly, took the trouble to estimate (if things went perfectly to mid-May) that I would still be some twenty points behind Russell Hilton who is in second place overall, but you never know, miracles have already happened to many in the competition this season and so there will be others yet I am sure

Mouse Update:
New babies for my birthday

Bubble and squeak

Bubble is black with two white circles and squeak is golden. Training will commence this week