Saturday, 17 October 2020

A Early Shot

Challenges remain unsated

A chilling sun illuminates early evening beneath cloud and over land, casting an eye-watering terminal October brightness over the angling day

Soon the sky would be orange, red, purple and unique. A photograph of a scene every day of a lifetime, would be ever-changed, and from minute to minute

The little river. Perfect in every way, wound like a rattlesnake on the move, it's curves carved like inundated lino cuts into the Feldon clays and gravels

Its flow was urgent, its depths compounded and, with a fish-confiding turbidity, the irresistible combination exacerbated the attraction ten-fold

An urge deep within. 

An urge to seek, to confound and trick. 

An urge that would, within minutes, result in a bait descending those depths so gently, so disarmingly, as to tempt the terminally torpid

Silty and shielding, sinuous and yielding. The emotion driven by an autumn flood irresistible. Here was the fisherman. A challenge unsated. 

This barely perceptible river had been an historic champion but could it again, in whatever form, diminished by time and the disregard of humankind? Could she again nurture chub and roach of unimaginable magnificence in her watery womb? 

Those seemingly surreal targets had hung heavy on the angler like a lead-laden yoke. Through innumerable seasons he'd yearned and toiled on its oft-times treacherous or impenetrable flanks

Could a chub of four pounds, or an impossible roach of two, be lying undisturbed below. Could they? 

He was to find out as his quest absorbed the strident confidence of this streamy, if not dreamy, provider and adversary, Warwickshire's lesser-loved River Leam. 

Crouched, eyes fixated; a first sudden rap resonated with the senses. Sight and touch stimulated. A hair-trigger poised. The snatching turned to tug, to pull, to strike, to hook, and was on. 

A slovenly autumn fish, subdued by the progressively chilling substrate through which it slid, offered little beyond the token in reluctantly accepting the duel. Not the bullseye but a surprisingly voluminous occupier of a high-scoring inner ring nevertheless

Thirteen ounces adrift wasn't a shameful starting shot and hope took root

----

Soon, a gentler solution. Finer, lighter, smaller and tighter. Flow subsiding, shade tending to green. The stream was just that. No longer the receding flood

Field maple, subsumed and released, left tattered by the subsiding flood formed a potentially darkened lair. The streaks and whirls of the flow, tickled and teased its leaves from below, while careering past a deeper slack

A gentle flick of that the most irresistible of small river lures - daintily presented, like a petit four drifting, he hoped, to inevitable consumption - barely broke the surface and faded into the fishiness to accept its fate. A fate that proved instant. A fate that proved that perhaps there was hope of the least likely target being present

A chub-like fight, passionate and self-respecting, outshone its predecessor such as to be confounding

At the rim, chub turned to roach. A gasp in shock but there she lie, sparkling and true, one pound of solid previously unsullied perfection



Signs of potential

Would this be the season to be jolly? 




Sunday, 4 October 2020

A 'How to..' by Way of a Change and 'Why to..'. Perhaps by Way of a Whinge

Casters

A genuinely special, unique and almost magical bait

The shells of freshly run-off casters, glistening from a quick rinse, smelling meatily enticing and fading from bright orange to white, are surely one of the most enduring and selective of hook options available to the discerning angler 

Evocative of sparkling nets of quality roach and chub but, capsule for particle, a selective choice for any one wishing to sort the men from the boys, in fishy terms, for pretty much any species

It is with roach however that the bait is synonymous. Even those bionic individuals that have become accustomed to the 8mm pellet aimed at a barbel are unlikely to turn their perfect little noses up at a regular rain of them falling in front of their eyes

So, one might expect them to be a perfectly well understood bait when it comes to preparing, conserving and use

Sadly, however, perhaps with the increased hustle and bustle of everyday life; the onset of instant gratification in the angling world; the ownership of tackle shops by non-expert anglers or the advent of general laziness one cannot be certain but there is little doubt that the knowledge of, and ability to, produce the best casters is a dying art

Many of the angling books that today would be dismissed as 'old school' (because the young don't need to learn from the experience of others anymore) commit whole chapters to the bait, and not without good reason. The plastic-packaged, gaudily-coloured, marketing person's dream that is the tackle shop bait shelf in 2020 and those, in themselves, a sign of the potential for the phasing-out of anything in the slightest bit messy, awkward, time consuming or a loss-leader, demonstrates the problem consummately. The bait fridge has become an incidental rather than fundamental requirement of the trade with even the mainstay of the whole sport, the maggot, the blue bottle larva, being pushed to the periphery such that some shops sell nothing but pellets, boilies and their derivatives.

What a commercialised world angling has become, but those that populate that world will probably not be interested in reading this

Casters buck the trend and in many quarters it has been forgotten that they are living things; a halfway house between maggot and fly, between terrestrial and airborne life. A stage in a quite miraculous process and this is the key factor, in terms of usefulness to the angler, the caster is short-lived and literally has a limited shelf life of around one week. The one complicating factor being that as the caster gets darker it reaches a point, at the deep maroon stage, at which it will start to float and become useless

Shrink-wrapped or chemically preserved casters are non-starters. The only purpose these methods of so-called preservation serve is to make them useful for filling a nearby bin as the bait will be dead and therefore decomposing unless used fairly instantly after packaging

For casters to be appealing in the long-term they must be fresh and most of all alive. Feeding stale to rancid dead bait will only serve one purpose and that is to sicken the fish and put them off next time they encounter such a 'treat'

Lovely early autumn caster caught Rudd of 15ozs

So what is the protocol when nurturing the perfect bait?

Firstly, a good supply of the biggest, fresh bait you can lay your hands on, and if you can't find such a source then consider running your own off by purchasing a couple of pints of white maggots the week before you need them and riddling them regularly, a process that ideally means you are able to go home in your lunch break 

Given a suitable supply though there are a few simple rules to follow to arrest the metamorphosis from maggot to fly such that you can keep the bait both healthy and usable, i.e. sinking, over the days between purchase and use:

- As soon as you get them home, open them up, swirl them gently round to get air to every one and then tie the bag with a bit of air space in it of about 1/4 the volume of the casters. Repeat this 2 or 3 times per day and they will stay fresh

- An alternative is to trap a sandwich bag across under the lid of a bait box with a small air gap under it above the bait. This is quite a nice way of doing things, especially for a canal trip. 

- If you have time, it is worth picking through the bait to get rid of any dead maggots; small, rough, slightly curled chrysalis of other fly species and general alien debris

- Transport the bait in the same manner and, on arriving at the bank, give them another gasp of air and pour a couple of hands full into a tub, and no more. This limits the amount of bait exposed to the elements and starting to turn to a darker shade, creeping toward the floating stage of the life cycle. 

- Covering the casters in water is another option that many prefer as it arrests their progress to a fly but again this should be done using smaller quantities, not the whole bag, as, if fishing for a good number of hours, they could have died and started to sour. 

- It is always wise the keep the spare casters in the manner described, in the shade and cool. This way they'll be useful for a couple more days if they don't all get used 

- If you start to suspect one or two are floating then immerse the whole lot in a deep tub and skim the floaters and any semi-bouyant ones off. These are of no use, especially if used in groundbait when they'll draw fish into the upper water levels as they float off.

- I recently discovered that black bags prevent what is known as 'bag burn' on the casters. This is a mark that looks like a burn from being scorched where the bait has been in contact with a clear polythene bag. It doesn't look good and seems to make the bait progress faster to a floating stage. 

- After the end of the session commences the same storage protocol of occasional gasps of air. Eventually however, about a week after being run-off they start to show signs of ageing, even though they may not have been on the bank or at a floating stage. The shells start to look less bright and go a dirty sort of shade. At this point they need be used immediately as this is the start of their deterioration and soon they will take on a certain aroma, suggestive of the early stages of decomposition. 


So the key aim is to have fresh, tasty casters at all times and when this is the only bait you are using, or it's in conjunction with hemp, the better the bait, the better the fishing and the more chance that, as you use them increasingly, the fish will get a proper taste for them. 

So that's the "How to.." bit out of the way. Apologies if I come across as preachy but I do love my casters! 


Onto the "Why to.." then...

'Everybody' fishes the feeder these days. I've been fishing the Severn and Warks Avon a lot this past year and a float angler is a rare sight indeed. There are certain stretches where the float is still favourite, such as Stratford Lido, but largely the scene is one of stiff rod tips in the air and wait for something to pull it round in a violent and unmissable arc. 

Well that's fine in itself of course, each to their own and all that, but it does strike me that many anglers have found a way of catching the odd decent fish when conditions by chance coincide with this approach, when, with a bit of advice or deeper thought, they could be doing so much better. 

A couple of weeks ago I was fishing the Severn in it's then incredibly low, clear and slow state. A time when ideally you'd apply crepuscular tactics and just fish first and last thing in the day, but living over a hour from the river, that's not a regular option in my world.



A 4lbs+ chub taken loose feeding a low and clear River Severn last week when very little action was evident

In my youth, rubbing shoulders with experienced river and canal anglers at their peak, was a source of valuable information, as little gems fell from their lips in everyday conversation that have been glued into the memory and reinforced by personal experience since. 

Hoofing a 3 or 4 ounce feeder full of groundbait into a shallow, clear river doesn't even register as an option in my head but, for many, this is probably what they've read and seen being done and so it's taken, literally, as read that this is the method; but angling has never been about one method or approach. As conditions vary, so too must the angler, and his or her tactics, targets and expectations. 

At the age of 15 or 16 I gleaned one of the most valuable nuggets of information I ever heard, from a member of the local 'National' team, as we used to say, by the name of Pete Jarvis. I don't recall how it came about but he said, "I thought I could get away with more groundbait today, as it (the river) was so coloured". 

It took a while, but over the years this short statement infiltrated the thinking and has influenced so much of what has proven correct on the day. I now have a simple adage that rarely fails; clear = loose feed; coloured = groundbait. On a river therefore, loose feed can be coupled with the straight lead and groundbait with a feeder; again as with anything, it's not 100% reliable but it's a fair guide.

Most things are not universally applicable. You might fish a block-end feeder and bronze maggots in coloured water, you might use bread mash on a clear river but, generally speaking, the principle is sound. 

A 3lbs 2oz chub taken this very evening on bread mash and flake from a rising and coloured River Leam. The best of two fish in a brief and rain-drenched session either side of dusk

So, when I see anglers doing as I described above, with heavy open-end feeders pounding into clear water like Howitzer shells, following a pattern that works by chance from time to time, it's baffling, but if the angler hasn't had the benefit of long experience, punctuated by snippets of golden information, where is the knowledge to come from? Surely life is too short to work it all out oneself!

Videos are largely product-driven and similarly limited to match fishing commercial fisheries. Top match anglers will always hold something critical back (otherwise how do they remain at the top?) and it is not since the days of genuine pioneering, ground-breaking anglers such as Kevin Ashurst and Ivan Marks that we have had their evolving ideas, failures and successes laid bare in the weeklies. Having been a long-standing match angler, albeit decades ago now, I know that there is more to angling and success in it than meets the eye, and most of it boils down to reading a swim and doing the thing(s) most likely to succeed on the day. The more often we can achieve this, surely the more enjoyment and satisfaction we can feel from having cracked the code on the day. 

Angling is very much divided between commercial, so called 'specialist', pleasure and carp anglers in 2020 and, while there is undoubtedly a massive catalogue of information out there, very little of it is genuinely what one might term 'watercraft'-related, in an era increasingly insistent on instant success. 

There used be a 1970's product, it might have been one of Green's, the Quick Jel makers', and the strap line was, "Just add an egg". Fast-forward to today, and the righteous indignation at having to add an egg would be palpable. 

Moaning, commentating or inviting a better future? 'Not certain but it's a fact, nonetheless. 

As the Great Man himself said, 

"I've got a grapefruit matter, it's a sour as s**t, 

I have no solutions, better get used to it". 































Monday, 21 September 2020

Plan C


It wasn't to have been the first time I had gone fishing, or with the intention of fishing, without critical items before. Most famously rods, for a far flung match, and, most recently, hook bait. 

Today though, today was a day to send all previous efforts into the bin marked 'pathetic attempt' forthwith. 

Fancying an evening behind alarms for a change, the Land Rover took me to the Old Lake with a view to a 4pm start. Travelling light, with as much kit previously set-up as possible, it took only a few minutes to be in a position to kick-off, or at least it should have done. 

I've been spending some time experimenting with open-end feeders packed with hemp and the smallest amount of liquidised bread to hold it in place in search of lovely untouched roach with perhaps the odd rudd and tench. 

The approach on this evening, with a strengthening breeze off my back and dropping temperature, was to try a large bread punch (13mm) on a short helicopter rig. 

So, clipping the feeder and 3" hook length on, I moved to punch some bread...only to find it was still at home. 

Brain racking time.

Ah yes, rubber maggots, they would do. 


Casting the first of the matching pair out about 30m, I leant across to set the rod in rest and alarm as I tightened it up. Ah, no bobbins! 

So how to resolve this? I hastily built a little bobbin using 7lb line in lieu of chains and a quick change swivel linked by silicon tube, but I soon found the swivel stayed on the line after striking and rattled in the rings. 

Some method of creating a clip that would readily pull off the line was a challenge. An inverted gemini clip worked to a degree but the tight area was too short and engaging it too fiddly. 

Then a penny dropped. A little upward nick in the side of the silicon tube would hook over the line and pull off perfectly on the strike...and sure enough it did, quite nicely in fact!

A few swan shot completed the never to be repeated article and the fishing commenced in earnest. 


Somehow the home made bite indication made the evening all the more enjoyable until, to cap it all off neatly, the batteries in the left-hand alarm died and the mouse-like mechanical squeak of the cheap roller had to suffice as an early warning system. 

A few nice roach in the 2 to 10 ounce range followed at dusk but a rudd of just a few drams below a pound took the beauty prize on the night. 


By the time another cast was made there was insufficient light to work with and this wasn't to be afforded the 'into dark' commitment I might on other occasions stay-on for so the odd bit of tackle still in use by dusk was tucked away and loaded into the car. 

As I sat on the tailgate, swapping wellies for Scarpas, tawny and little owls were calling with apparent urgency and Daubenton's bats hovered over calm water close-in, in the lee of the fresh breeze. 

All was well in this little world and the need to have improvised had added to the trip immeasurably with the majority of the fish coming to single red fake maggot. 

Perhaps I should forget more kit more often. 

Or maybe not. 















Saturday, 18 April 2020

Three Weeks In…The Hiatus at Home


A Long Season Behind & a Long non-statutory Close Season to Follow

There was a time when life was simple

A time when a close season was accepted, when fishing was uncomplicated and when people knew where they stood

They knew right from wrong, in a sense

The glorious 16th. Of spring fishes, sharp mornings, misty views, gritty eyes and the heartbeat of uncertainty

Those of unfathomable feathered feats of migration would start to trickle in. A few waders, the odd martin or swallow; overwintering chiffchaff and blackcap might start to sing, boosted by a far greater number of visitors and, conversely, some would leave; redwing and fieldfare most notably, but they can also be noted hanging around seemingly far too long (7 fieldfare in a mature garden aspen just 2  weekends ago)

Wildfowl leave and wildfowl return; cetaceans follow prey into the waves warming coastal waters and, somewhat intriguingly, become spotters’ fantasy sightings

Frogs, toads and newts; snakes and lizards; invertebrates; fish; every living thing becomes caught-up in the palpable swell of Spring

Except this year, 2020, when we British humans are to be denied our Spring


Questions are begged

"But what about the League?!"

Liverpool, perhaps Coventry City, Celtic, Dundee Utd, Cove Rangers they could all be declared champs and not many would be bothered but when it concerns tight current positions like those of Leeds, Crewe/Swindon, Raith Rovers, etc., plus the numerous also rans seeking promotion and those trying to drag their legs from the rubber towel holder of relegation, what’s to do? Well okay the, disrespectfully so called, lower leagues have been scrubbed but firstly, does it not seem quite incredible that none of the leagues seem to have rules set-out under the heading “Massive Disaster Contingency Plans”, especially as the majority of them survived at least one and probably two World Wars?

Surely the simplest solution is that if a delay of more than ‘X’-weeks occurs the places each team occupied at the time of suspension will be their finishing positions. If the rules state it there is no doubt and everyone goes into it with their eyes open, but to take decisions in multi-million pound situations mid-flow could/would result in complete chaos with the legal system being swamped with claims and counter-claims arising therefrom. One would think they’d be ready


So that’s just one issue in this crazy COVID-19 world of isolation. I’m told there may be others


For F, F&F though there are bigger fish to skin and many ways of frying a cat (to use dear old Psycho’s method of phraseology. For the can’t be bothered at heart, he once said, “We could see the carrot at the end of the tunnel”) and some of those creatures will be positively contributing to this, the Hiatus at Home, while others will suffer

Research, conservation, breeding, crime, birth rates, death rates, sales, mental illness, wealth, etc., will all have wildly swinging fluctuations of fortune and we’ve just got to bite the bullet and make the most of what we have without any great release other than conversation, community spirit, siege mentality, gardening, home decorating, health and fitness, families being drawn together, helping each other, playing games, cooking. Blimey, sounds quite plausible actually.

So, for our part, it’s been a case of writing up angling notes, imagining what one might need to prepare for and what options might present dependent upon the timing of our release.

Revisiting those notes is always rewarding, not least because the number of hopeless trips become apparent and being confined to literal gardening duty seems nicely profitable in comparison to those

One aspect, it being a Bloggers’ Challenge season, is the noting of those slightly more special fish. There’s a little schedule that qualifies a fish in FFF-land and anything above gets underlined in red. So it’s quick to glance through and see how successful a period has been in terms of fish that have hit the mark of being noteworthy, albeit they all get noted anyway

They’ve become known as Stone-fish


PB’s merit a red box around them. Any type of PB. Best for rivers, canals, lakes; best for individual watercourses or lakes or of course the actual overall, indisputable, species, ‘with knobs on’, Lifetime Personal Best

PB’s came along like mornings when the Float & Flannel elements of the Blog were growing and the first Bloggers’ Challenge entered was underway. A few years on, a PB has become more of a rarity as the number of pyramid topping species has racked-up. Indeed, it’s become more a case of seeking epic moments than PB’s in their own right.

But is this right? Is angling all about breaking previous barriers?


The Bloggers’ Challenge  is all consuming.

The inner competitor breaks-out of dormancy and influences every move.

What points-scoring fish do current conditions suggest the most likely? Catching it is uplifting but there are many, many failures and its easy to look back at a year via the notes and (lack of) underlining to see the fact

Some nice fish have been to grace the net, certainly, but the whole period has been more about quantity and filling the scoreboard with ‘nice fish’. The final part of the plan, this current river close season from mid-March to mid-June, was to have been the icing on the cake but of course, chances are it won’t now happen at all


Post-Coronavirus I envision a world quite different

When nature bites humankind on the proverbial, there is usually a quick return to whatever normality is, and it’ll be different things emerging from this pandemic that will stay with us. Sadly however, it will probably be the easy things that have little effect on people’s everyday lives that will be retained

In reality of course its the more fundamental far-reaching changes that need to become the norm, family, community, walking, supporting nature, growing food; all locally undertaken. British holidays, and, as the air now clears, a massive reduction in air and car travel, and so on

Personally it strikes me that if this lockdown has taught us anything surely it is that we’ve lost touch with the natural pace of life. The increasingly confusing, rushed, frantic daily grind that is neither natural nor healthy, nor sustainable is the new black. A place of darkness driven by the constant search for economic growth. More of this, more of that and less/no actual time to simply live. A pace careering to an inevitable collision with mental health and physical issues, which all begs the simple question, “Why?”.

One final question:
Could CORVID-19 be caused by a flock of rooks?


Seat photograph: Copyright Florian Müller





Tuesday, 24 March 2020

A RECORD BREAKING WET WINTER


The winter of 2019/2020 will no doubt be recorded as "the wettest since records began" in due course. Everything must be labelled thus in the 21st Century; biggest, smallest, worst, best, hottest, coldest, was Ben Stokes' Ashes hundred the best innings ever? Does it really matter?

The rivers only returned to anything like normal level toward the start of the beleaguered close season following what seem to have been interminable grey skies accompanied by heavy rain

Locally in fact, in terms of human impact, it wasn't that bad but certainly the situation once the ground became inundated was such that each time it rained the rivers were quick to rise with any additional precipitation finding no traction on the land. Thus it was difficult to predict levels from one day to the next. Throw into the equation the further determining factor of falling or rising water temperatures and it made for a quite unfathomable mix on the constantly warm angling front.

On one occasion at the water, that time approaching normal level but still with a strong tow and silt-coated banks, littered, thankfully, with barely any man-made litter, a great tit struck up a seranade. It's urgent 2x2 tune as if summoning passengers to the ark this winter had conjured in the minds of many a joker.

The View from Here throughout the Winter. Fishing into Cold Tea. 
Collectively and collaboratively, for FF&F and Artificial Lite, it had been preordained that the rivers would be targeted through the whole winter to support our forthcoming film but, never being tardy in the acceptance of a challenge, it was immensely taxing and thus worthwhile in a personal satisfaction sense when something actually happened.

It wasn't so much getting bites that was the issue but the late Peter Stone's influence over the perpetual search for those bigger fish in the swim was certainly stretched like no.6 pole elastic in a carp fight at times.

Checking weather forecasts, river levels, predicting whether water temperatures were increasing or simply increasingly cold were daily events. If they were rising and the target river was falling, then we'd be erecting our aerials for barbel on meat, if not it would be anything that swims, usually with lobworms.

Selecting swims took a good deal of wandering the banks, but some cracking (looking) options were identified and became so called 'go to' places dependent upon the above factors combined with wind direction.

As for the rest of the tale? Well, it's currently being narrated and edited.

----

So, season over, it has become customary to take up residence at Rocky Res. Not the prettiest of backdrops to illuminate the quality of the fishing, which has never been better, but for a few bites and the chance of decent tench (regularly up to five or six pounds), roach averaging 12ozs but often over a pound and other mix'n'match treats along the way, it's a veritable fishing sweet shop with the word 'STRIKE' running through it much like its sugary seaside namesake.

...and strike we did.

A number of us from the Warwickshire Bloggers Angling Syndicate (WBAS), took the opportunity to move toward our second anniversary, with a few bites, the winter having been so tough for all of us.

The first few minutes, waiting for that first run on goal, always seem interminable and when utilising the now standard short link heli rigs for roach the opportunity that presents itself is often blasted over the bar.

Slowly we get into it and memory serves to advise that with a suitably balanced set-up the strike isn't actually important. If the feeder and bobbin are suitably matched a dropback indication confirms the fish is hooked as it's moved the feeder; similarly the bobbin repeatedly bashing against the alarm is a fair sign too!

Beyond that, the only interest was in the fish with no bird life of note to occupy the inter-bite lulls, and it was undoubtedly the latter, the bites, that stimulated endocrine system to ooze adrenaline as, on a couple of occasions, a fish was being played to the tune of the second alarm, singing like a canary in need of a good slap. Baitrunner engaged, rod thrown off the alarm, fish going who knows where!

The wind stiffened into its own adrenaline trigger between events as dense showers billowed across the valley like a stage curtain caught in the flatulence of an open fire exit. 

First time, a sight unimaginable to me just a few years ago. A roach of 1.6 sharing the bunk with a 5lb tinca. This followed later by two tench of 4.12 and 3.9, the one seemingly cradling the other. The ripped old net ('tempted to put "man" there!) was straining into shock but on neither occasion were fish lost and the effectiveness of the method was emphatically confirmed.




Soon of course swallows and martins will be coursing and swooping over the ripples. Warblers will be warbling on maximum volume and everything will seem fine again; while, at Rocky Res, it certainly is giving that impression already. 24lbs 8ozs of roach and tench followed by 14lbs in less that two hours on a subsequent visit is not to be sniffed at and not a fish under about half a pound.

----

So (why does everyone start sentences with "So" these days? I blame the scientists), approaching the end of the rifling through of various venue options, Google Earth, forecasts, river levels and the like; a break, a distraction, was required. Blogger's Challenge points had rarely been boosted through the muddy months and canal perch was one column needing to be populated with a two pounder, as a minimum, 100 points available to the taker if it exceeded two pounds and three ounces.

Cue a jolly to the banker swim. The journey brought a definite hint of a chill and it started to influence the inner workings. Parking up this was momentarily lost a the unbridled beauty of the song of the thrush accompanied the preparation as the extra layers initially felt bracingly cold against the skin. It rang out through the trudge to the waterside until he became consumed by a new urge. 

Caster feed and lobworm chopped in half, and both sections impaled, against the resistance only a lobworm can display, on a delicate little size 8 forged heavy metal hook would be the tactic on my beloved 10' wand. Now usually when you snap the tip off a rod the whole thing becomes quite useless but 2" off the tip of the wand, damaged in transit, and neatly cut back to what was the penultimate eye actually improved things for this exquisite little tool in the bigger fish stakes.

No need for anything elaborate here. Simply drop the lead to the right, quiver straight out and wait for the enquiries to start while sprinkling caster heavily (for a canal) over the top. Always been partial to casters have big perch.

Poised for that first bite and suddenly that clarion of small bird alarm calls, as, sure as strike follows bite, silent death. A female sparrowhawk on her early morning sortie. A smash and grab raid before breakfast. Without a whisper she was over my head and through the confined invisible, impossible (impassable even) tunnel of a route through the facing hedge and out of sight, not a feather ruffled nor a wing beat. 

Soon enough, a few tentative pulls and then the fish was clearly fully committed. A sharp strike in the hope of setting hook into boney mouth and the typical 'digging' run of a decent perch ensued. After quite a battle, the rod again served the purpose with ample reserves and this beauty was there to behold. Laying spent and sparkling under the blanket of heavy cloud


On the scales 35.3ozs, or 2lbs 3ozs 5dr to give it a precise conversion.

Points in the bag and a parallel apology to dear old Ben Henessy, whose 100 pointer this would usurp by just a quarter of an ounce, was certainly in order! (Still feeling guilty Ben).

That's the precis of the story anyway. As luck would have it, in the short session the following list of perch, tempted by an unexpected feast, from this apparent super-shoal went as follows:
2.3.5, 8oz, 6oz, 2.1.5, 1.2.10, 1.14.0 & 1.3.0 plus roach that moved in at the end of 4ozs and 10ozs.

Those latter suspects came as a complete surprise, so involved had the perching become but they did trigger a little reluctance to leave, even though bites had generally tailed-off significantly.

As an angler however, that feeling of confidence that a bite could come at any moment never wanes. It is probably the greatest cause of being late for whatever follows. One more cast. Well maybe another then, if I put it just...there.

Now why did I spend all winter on the rivers exactly?


Monday, 30 December 2019

The Pre and Post Christmas Rush



PRE-CHRISTMAS

Sinking into the marsh, subsequent steps no deeper than before but each consistently sucked in by the peat-like soil, slowed the walk but did not diminish the enthusiasm as the river was to be at a high level and, with the summer weed now ripped-out and flushed through by a month's heavy rain, the opportunity to apply pole feeder tactics in slack water was irresistible

'Anything that swims' would be in order, as the first priority is to avoid a blank, but there would be that Peter Stone-style aim to pick-out a bigger fish, as always

Choosing a slack below a bridge where the main flow hurtled to the far bank, toward the overhang of hawthorns, the water appeared steady with barely any flow and, closer in, flowed against the main torrent but, there was an 'eye' to this back eddy, centrally, where the water stood still

The essential of offering an attraction of feed on the river bed in such circumstances is limited to a bait dropper or swimfeeder and, with the most recent rain at that time having been cold, this needed to be in limited quantity. The introduction of a single chopped lobworm plugged with a minimal but heavy mix, containing a sprinkling of worm extract, would be introduced and only for the first three lowerings of the rig, after which the ear would make decisions on the state of play

Bites would be expected to be early and consistent, if they came at all should there be any fish in the slack, and sure enough this came in the shape of a rare river gudgeon, and a surprise boost in Challenge points. The marker quivered and disappeared with a disproportionately positive vigour as compared to the size of this tiny mottled brown visitor, which weighed in at just 0.54 ounces on the mini-fish scales


Adding challenge points at the time of year, and with such weather affecting all possible options, is largely an exercise in luck, most of it bad, but the great thing is that the flood, if it produces anything, often produces pleasant surprises, unseasonable species being one of them but also bigger fish than we might anticipate

Ones natural reaction approaching such a situation is to think that anything will do and therefore be happy with a little fish of any species simply to rescue the day from a blank but regularly this can be found to be a negative and pessimistic attitude. That's not to suggest that big fish will be caught from each and every slack. Indeed, some of them won't appear to hold any fish at all but on average it seems every other trip might throw up something a little more interesting. This past week, for instance, a chub of 4lbs+, an eel of over a pound and a string of pristine hand-sized roach have sprung from different swims on various days

For a few weeks the canals locally had been like milky tea, the lakes shocked into the dormancy of winter by the first cold weather and rivers in and out of the fields with varying degrees of turbidity, pace, level and temperature

The most recent rain, a brief but violent downpour on a Friday, of the increasingly prevalent 'climate change'-driven type, was warm, as the weather turned, and, although the river was rising, it was not now carrying much debris. Consequently the fish were more obliging. Simply more hungry, and, thankfully, a series of chublets and roach came to hand in the ensuing couple of hours accompanied by the incessant twittering and wheezing of starlings on the wires, and the occasional whistling of teal


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POST-CHRISTMAS

Rocky Res would be the location as temperatures were expected to be steady and mild for a couple of weeks

Bleak Midwinter, and windswept at even the most enticing of times, this was not a place for the tentative, sensitive nor indeed the unprotected angler

Visits must be preceded by careful analysis of wind direction and speed plus the likelihood of rain, otherwise the most uncomfortable, nigh-on unbearable, sessions are bound to be endured

The first visit was to be the now standard winter stillwater roach approach of maggot feeder and closely positioned two inch heli-rigged hook-length, also loaded with maggot, usually double but part of a constant merry-go-round of hook-bait options in search of a 'killing' combination

HonGenSec beat me to it on the first trip, as usual (albeit biteless at that point), but, even though there were a few carpers and pikers ensconced, swims were going aplenty

Ultimately it became apparent that my negativity in hook size would come to haunt me, catching four fish and losing five due a surprising interest from tench in just 5degC water temps [no one tell Len Head!]. The best roach was 12ozs, for each of us



----

Next trip and HGS was well in front of me and had 5 or 6 roach to 1lb before I'd even turned-up.

The approach was to be different this time, and new. I recalled having a tube of 'sticky mag' in the bag and, combined with a slider rig, this was to be the challenge of the day fishing into 10' of water at around 20-25m. How this would take me back!

Never having used sticky mag it was a bit of a challenge to even get it to work, but it did, and very effectively too. It was easy to roll 20 gentles into a ball and fire them out with a standard catapult. It did require a bowl of water to swill the fingers in, as the stickiness was staggering. I had imagined it would be like a cornflour-type thickening agent but in use it seemed more like powdered toffee, or the like. So adhesive was it that the bait became rigid under its power

My recollection of the slider rig (it had been a while) wasn't the best and I did suffer with tangles, however subsequent seeking of advice from experts, a couple of errors with shotting and casting technique are now resolved. I think the hook bait was attached directly to the float for 50% of the session! Not good, but maybe you gotta make mistakes to learn sometimes (I keep telling myself!)

The upshot of the session was that HGS kept trotting along showing me roach of ever-increasing size, to over the pound mark, in fact, while I kept plugging away. It was during one of those chats that I actually had a bite and landed a very respectable perch of a pound thirteen. Later came the light-bulb moment that this might even have represented more unexpected challenge points


It did, sixty-odd of them!

Another 10oz roach followed but then the dark set-in early with heavy cloud and mist. HGS had by then quit for the heated car seat option but his catch of nine roach, all over ten ounces, for a total catch of around seven pounds, would do more to keep the home fires burning than any amount of hot food
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Next day, the third visit, there could be no excuses. I knew where the bigger roach were, the rig, the slider episode was out of the system and I had doubled-up an eleven foot 1lb t.c. rod prior to the holiday and matched them to alarms and bobbins. The heli-rigs would be back in action!

Arriving just after sunrise, the light southerly would again be from behind the chosen spot, if it was free. Again there was total cloud cover (very much akin to the Dutch 'Total Football' but without the game itself being in anyway involved...unless a perch was caught, obviously) and no one else there, (a Saturday!), again, the water was around 5degC

Pilfering a few rocks from the bank, the rods were set-up perfectly (this time). Maggot at first, then a few flavours proved nothing until bites started to emanate. Inquiries at first then full-blown backdrops; never frantic but regular and generally hit-able

Firstly roach, in fact the first fish was over a pound and followed by a couple of twelve ouncers

1.1.5
Then the tincas moved in, inexplicably smaller than the average summer fish initially, at two and half pounds, but cracking fish to take in Christmas week

Not one, but two bailiffs, approached me at various times to see if anything was stirring and both were genuinely pleased that the answer was, "Yes", as the lack of bums on seats bivvy bed-chair thingies demonstrated that things could only have got better

Then a passing couple or two. It was a dead-end. They had to come back so it was easy to lose count, honest. Suspected as angling husbands and non-angling generally frozen partners suffering the event in the hope of ending-up somewhere warm later, maybe?

My final visitor however was actual angling royalty in the ever-upright form of 1960's England International Hubert Noar; now in his seventies; still match fishing on canals; still seeking bigger fish than the youngsters, albeit more so with perch than roach these days, it seems, and still drawing more than his fair share of what we used to call 'coin', I suspect

"Didn't expect to see you here!" he said, binoculars at the ready in case the regular passage migrant from Norfolk, a bearded tit, should emerge from the reeds

We reminisced

Old names, old techniques, preferences and, as always with anglers of this stature, a couple of nuggets; gems, if you like. Apparently back in the heyday of the middle Great Ouse, when anglers from Rugby Federation, it is fair to say, dominated, it seems Hubert used to come to Rocky Res to practice the unique long float technique into surface drift-affected deep water rather than driving for ninety minutes to the actual venue between matches. It paralleled my own experience, teaching myself to fish bread punch in readiness for a Grand Union Canal NFA National in North London by using the Leicester Arm of the same canal, it would be similarly clear, in the early mornings at the very least, and, sure enough, it worked in that manner too.

Suddenly - resounding bleeps on both rods at once

I struck into what was clearly a better tench on the left-hand rod combined with a solid drop-back on the right-hand rod leaving the alarm bleeping constantly. Hubert was desperate to help-out so I let him pick up the r.h. rod and he held it until I had netted the tench and soon it was joined by a good roach in the same landing net

A quick weigh put the tench at 3lbs 8ozs and the previously unmolested form of the freshly minted roach at a cracking 1.5.3, and (just) more unexpected Challenge points

Best tench of the day
"I expect you'll be doing a film about this place next then?!", he enquired. Very much matter of fact

"No, I think there are plenty of people who know more about this place then I do Hubert", came the reply. His response was indeed flattering, yes, but, I have to say, very much wide of the mark

According to my build-up of notes (no keepnets allowed) the catch comprised 5 roach and 4 tench for a total of exactly sixteen pounds with the smallest fish again eleven ounces.

Quality fishing at one of the best stillwaters in the area

Best roach of the day
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Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all, let's hope the fishing is on the up at last!





















Thursday, 21 November 2019

Lights, Camera, Action or The Written Word?


The recent foray into film with fellow blogger Eric Weight of Artificial Lite represents quite a departure from the usual F, F&F fare. It has caused less time to be available for writing, and certainly less to say, as the focus has sharpened elsewhere. Combine that with the Blogger's Challenge running this season and opportunities for the wide angle of variety found so absorbing in angling is hugely diminished.

The release to date of three films, all accessible across the tabs at the top here (popcorn extra) has put our combined little worlds into a whole new orbit, it seems. What started as a kernel of an idea during a chance encounter on the banks of Rocky Res one sunny morning, zoomed into an idea to keep the pair of us amused and then, a little while after initially putting Big Canal Roach on YouTube, it must have had some kind of boost somewhere as views rocketed and, before we could gather our thoughts, our little film, made initially to challenge our own aspirations, hit 1000, then 5000, then 10,000 and, now, closing-in on 25,000 views.

It's a job to know what to make of this. Many of the comments have cited calming, nostalgic, easy viewing as a heart-warming feature. Others like, what we like to think of, as the original, perhaps even unique, type and  flow of information. Certainly though, the fact is that many videos, while claiming to be of the 'how to..' type actually pass surprisingly little useful information on and often concentrate on the product and/or the 'wow, look at this/me' factor.

All this is fine of course, in its place, but it wasn't for us.

A fine mid-afternoon 6lbs 8oz river bream after the height of the Warks Avon floods. Anything is possible under such conditions. 
Firstly, one of the driving forces was that it doesn't matter who markets the rod you use, it need neither influence the achievement nor the pleasure of the pursuit. The kit we show in use is above budget/entry level but not in the expensive bracket, it's lower mid-range 'specialist' kit on average, or quite old, and perfectly adequate either way. The only extravagance was the centre-pin, which was a 50th birthday gift, and the only other thing we might habitually spend that bit more on would be line, as poor quality in this critical link is not to be entertained, but even in this department we see no need to advertise the fact, all quality tackle firms offer good enough lines, and, even for the beginner, tackle dealers will be quick to point out stock to meet the need.

Nothing is fixed, and anglers, above all others perhaps, will have their own preferences on tackle choice. We could easily have had the chance to catch more fish for the camera had we fished with match tackle, we would have lost more chub in some of the types of snaggy swim we were concentrating on in the knowledge that fish were likely to be present, but that would be misleading the viewer into believing this could be a sensible approach when it certainly would not be. "Hit and hold" is essential in such circumstances, both in terms of levels of success in landed fish and also fish welfare. We don't want to leave any fish tethered to roots, etc., due to inadequate or under-gunned tackle

Secondly, the making of any video had to be a pleasure in itself and this is where the 'bang, crash, wallop' manufacturer-type approach certainly didn't fit the bill. It had to try to stand alone even in the absence of any angling interest. Ideally though it would be a case of combining both aspects in a mature manner and one that would sit neatly in the 'roaring fire and nip of single malt' category, maybe even stretching to a puff on the old pipe.


Conversely, while one might always aspire to something of the quality of that benchmark in angling films know simply these days as "Passion", we preferred to avoid the retro-vintage tackle/eccentric country boys approach.

As Eric put it when we discussed the lack of a proper net bag one day, "It's just a bloke going fishing. I don't care if you've got a bin liner with your net in. That's the point". This is the ethos that encapsulates all of the above.

It's just a bloke going fishing.

So, Big Canal Roach having been released, we set about truncating the process as that took far too long, we felt. Not least in editing time, 90% of this for Eric.

Then, suddenly, dilemmas. Lots of them. The reception for the first effort - would it become a milestone round our necks? How would we move forward? Should we just stop there? What could we do that we know enough about to, a/. Be convincing, and, b/. At the very least match it in all other respects?

To give it a parallel in popular culture, imagine The Jam, or the like. Cracking, intense, true, passionate, heartfelt, real debut album, "In The City", when they really meant it, with no record deals in place as songs were written; then confronted with the need for follow-up albums after they've put everything into the first but there's nothing comparable left to share. The eye comes off the ball, so things get more far-fetched, more experimental and less real. In their case there's a contract and a deadline, it's now a living and everything depends on it, cue "This is the Modern World".

Thankfully in our case the only pressure we felt was a combination of our own desire and regular requests for more from commentators.

We put everything into the roach offering without holding anything back for the future. We did have a loose list of half a dozen ideas we might have considered a series but we never sat down and planned them in that manner. It was far more of a, "Let's try it with this one and see how it goes" approach.

The idea of a shorter, "What about this neglected misunderstood fish", silver bream option, though it always going to be of lesser interest, broke the potential for our heads to slip into a metaphorical noose 'early doors' by purposely deviating from the initial philosophy somewhat. For a start, it wasn't winter and it included more asides, especially with the rudd incident knitted in there, albeit unintentional, but that's fishing isn't it? Things happen and, more regularly than not, it's not what you might previously have planned or wished for.


The third offering was enhanced by two factors, mainly Eric's imagination, particularly in respect of the nostalgic element, and the first use of underwater footage. The latter, being my department, I have more to talk about and what a fascinating period that was. Thankfully in this respect at least, unlike the current one, it was generally a dry winter thus enabling a good deal of experimentation to be undertaken with the benefit of clear water. Angle of camera when settled, location, depth of field, scale, flow, ,varying waters were all to be resolved and dealt with. I estimate it took 20-30 hours of film to produce the few seconds of footage, twenty of those until we even saw a chub! Gudgeon, minnows, roach, dace, even a tench and then perch were all 'caught' prior to a chub sucking a piece of flake up in the murk and, even to this day, not a single view of the actual hook bait!

The main benefit of the sub-aquatic camera was the lens into a different poorly understood world. The difference in natural food levels between the Avon and the Leam for instance was an eye opener, the Avon having been polluted in recent years, and the step-up from those in winter to a shallow reservoir in spring was beyond belief where the array of life was falling over itself, so densely was it populated.

The camera we used wasn't expensive, I think £60-ish, but it saved straight to a micro SD and could film for a few hours, laying down the data in short segments which made for easy reviewing and labeling.

All of the above was very simple, which it needed to be in my case, and added a new dimension to the angling as well as the real purpose. No longer did I personally expect the fish to line-up, regimentally, as a tidy shoal awaiting their breakfast for instance, and a more chaotic scene is now imaginable as various dabblings are made.

So what of the future of video for Artificial Flight?

There are a few ideas floating around and one we are about to embark on sparked by the recent seemingly interminable rain and flooding, an exciting prospect, for me at least, and one I'm immensely looking forward to starting imminently. Quite what it will bring that's different and progressive in our film making remains to be seen, but I'm sure we'll come up with something however basic it may be.

After all...it's just a bloke going fishing!