Saturday, 13 April 2019

Life in the Old Bog yet

Minus one and the iced mist drags itself from the water in an almost imperceptible spiral of a farmhouse in diameter.

Undeterred, the cacophony of April strikes up as the sun burns though the silhouettes of trees as if whitefire lies behind.

Then as a squeezed irregular shape, rays bursting through the stout timbers of a hundred years standing, the earth's candle fires up.

Beneath the surface those mucus encased shoals start to dream, but they dream of the confidence of dusk.

Teetering over the margins, the butterbur, having thrust out of the now frozen ground, stand reluctant, their florets pendulous, as if ashamed of their emerging splendour.

This is spring in these neglected parts that only the chiffchaff and its cousins appreciate sufficiently to return.

As that most modern of woodpeckers, the great spotted, drums a beat on a galvanised steel mast the wide-eyed silver bream, bathed in sky blue iridescence and salmon fins, lies spent and still in the magnificence of its defeat, teased again by the most lowly of baits.

Monday, 1 April 2019



Daylight gone, gales dropping, beta light wagging gently in the post-peak flow, as it had through the previous hour. The few items in use were pushed back into various pockets and whipped up and over the hood such that it nestled comfortably under the right arm. Rod and net in right hand and chair in left, the vacant walk back across the meadow progressed, the sheep now invisible, as progress was made the glow of the rod tip bobbed like the lure of a deep ocean angler fish illuminating the way.

The perennial challenge had peaked in recent weeks at around three and a half pounds. That 4lb Leam chub still eluding capture. That fish does exist however, of that we can be certain. A recent acquaintance has had two or three around 3.13 and the closest we got this past season was but a minnow short of the bullseye.

Coupled with this though, fuelled by extensive research and inquiries, was an as yet unwritten target of increasing the river roach P.B. At the time this particular line of enquiry was gestating, memory (never a good source of accurate information) announced that the river best was a 1.4.6 fish from Leamington A A stretch, perhaps a handful of years ago. However, in a rare moment of I.T. enlightenment, a list of best roach appeared out of nowhere; this included, not one but two, fish of 1.8 - one from the Trent and one from the Warks Avon - in the mid-1980's.

The plan was simple, concentrate on local rivers most likely to produce the biggest roach and, when time allowed, start to suss-out and understand the River Severn as the only river within about an hour of Chez Nous known to contain more than the odd individual over two pounds (being, of course, the ultimate target).

The challenge bar had been raised and with plans afoot to break this barrier, a twelve ounce Warwickshire Avon fish being the best to date, the tension became palpable.

In attempting to narrow viable options, a list of potential rivers and venues was drawn-up based on distance combined with their potential to issue forth 2lb fish, this on the basis that fish of that size would be newsworthy and traceable via published reports. Limited areas of Warwickshire Avon & Leam, the Severn. Nothing else.

In these parts of Blighty the prospect a 'river 2' is comparable with an ageing plum tree most unlikely ever to bear fruit. More than the fish of a lifetime in truth, the phrase implying the possibility in every anglers lifetime. Not so.

So, should these fail, I promised myself a trip south as the sunset on a scratchy season to tackle a chalkstream or two, guided by local wisdom.

The first session on the Blogger's Syndicate stretch of upper middle Warwickshire Avon was tough, fishing the deepest hole, but as the light faded into a frosty grave, a 12ozer found irresistability in the face of a grain of corn, but, despite lingering in the spreading sparkles brought to life by moonbeams, no more.

Christmas, and a Birmingham Anglers Association (BAA) 'book' (nowadays disappointingly a card and a mind-blowing venues map book) arrived. Come January 1st it would be possible to begin sampling the delights of big River Severn roach.

Pouring over various forums, some good, some plain irritating, a pattern started to emerge. Firstly that Severn fish hadn't been really been written about for a handful of years, secondly reports suggested they tended to be caught mid-river in summer on pellets and, finally, that a noteworthy portion of those river locations reputedly held good shoals in winter.

On the basis of this loose information HonGenSec & I hatched a plot to start targeting the river over a couple of long weekends, January to March. He for barbel and chub, parallel with this roach commitment.

Overall we spent four full days together on the river plus a couple of hours when we met before dusk at the tail of my compadres fifth day.

A tactic was hatched to start on the float where possible after bait dropping and loose feeding caster with a touch of overcooked hemp, such as to not preoccupy any fish. Various tweaks to this approach were applied until settling into a routine of 2 hours float fishing, followed by a 30g feeder just below the upstream and of the 'trot' and a light straight lead halfway down on the same trotting line.

Three things became apparent in this process - the fishing was generally poor, many anglers were blanking; it worked for barbel and chub but there wasn't a roach to be seen!

4lbs 10oz Severn Chubster. Little point hiding the mug now its all over YouTube!

Best Barbus went 8lbs 2ozs and took some taming on a 16 fine wire roach hook

In desperation 38 angling hours into the Severn campaign a local tackle dealer offered the following nugget, "The cormorants have herded all the roach into towns and the only place you can catch them is under bridges". That didn't fit the criteria at all and at that point the back-up plan came to the fore.

Thus far, approximately 50 hours in total and one 12oz Warks Avon roach to show for them, and with the end of the river season zooming-in, it was time to take-up the very kind offer of James Denison's generosity to pursue what would, with any luck, be first-ever chalkstream fish.

An monotonous trip down a Monday morning motorway lead to the meeting point in an urban setting. Rolling through it though was a stream that defied its surroundings and survived as a viable ecosystem despite the pressure of civilisation pushing, squeezing and towering over it like a mid-pounce leopard, the spots of which would never be lost but only grow yet larger.

First area, a mill pool, produced it and it alone. A three ounce roach of such immensely striking colours and contrasts that it could easily have been a different species compared to its pallid Midlands brethren.

The life in this challenged stream had to be sen to be believed. Even the laundry had water lice living in it

Moving on, scaling walls, running the gamut of traffic, joggers, people with the perennial question preceding the movement of their lips, dogs (and of course their proceeds), other anglers and life itself we tested-out another area where the machinations of society displayed in all their dubious splendour.

Notably, all swims were nothing like anything experienced anywhere before. Rapids, slacks, back-eddies, features largely comprising the trappings of human occupation rather than the natural, comprised the watercraft exercise of the day. In a nutshell the bottom was visible in 2 to 3 feet of water and it was a case of flicking a float into the darkest, most mysterious areas of water, and finding the fish by trial and (plenty of) error.

Once an out and out river angler, the rust had grown so think in the joints that the supply of skill testing swims took all day to (not quite) get used to, but occasionally a trot would be about right and the resultant roach - big, bold, beautiful - were suggestive that penetrating oil had made the difference.

The bite was never-ending and the response to steady, gentle feed rewarding.
The best, of four around the pound mark, went one pound three ounces and in between came a couple of lovely dace; the best at 0.8.13 being the best of this current lifetime. Reincarnation? Don't rule it out!

The last legal river fishing day was washed away in the remnants of another transatlantic storm and so one pound three ounces will have to suffice for now.

Plenty of time to improve things next season. 



The first season of WBAS has been and gone so quickly.

I think it would be fair to say it's been a resounding success with some cracking venues trialled and plans hatched for the future.

One thing we do realise is that the will to obtain access to exclusive waters means we must increase our number from ten to fifteen members to cover the cost but also retain the high likelihood of a solitary day on the bank without having to grapple with others for swims. Even then, if we all chose to fish at the same time, we would have a third of a mile of bank space each!

Currently we have access to three small Warwickshire rivers, a prime stretch of Warks Avon and a pool just over the border in Leicestershire that we are developing from carp and small fish to, we hope, quality tench and pure crucians.

So, if you consider yourself like-minded; are attracted by solitude and good fishing for quality fish (in environments as natural as one can still find in the area) please do comment on this post providing an email address, and we'll remove that message from public display before responding with further information (please note that prospective members will need to be proposed by current members or contacted for a conversation by telephone).



A bream and tench campaign on stillwaters when time allows and big canal fish when it doesn't.

Otherwise it'll be the next Blogger's Challenge starting June 16th under new points scoring very traditional we are!

Thursday, 17 January 2019

The Evolving Situation

The Bloggers' Syndicate stretch of the Upper Warwickshire Avon has transmogrified into a perfect meandering stream over the past month

No longer the sluggish, eutrophic, apparently lifeless ditch. A bank-high torrent has flushed activity into it like steady rain to a recently drilled field. Suddenly the scum-clad becomes the pristine and, to the piscean stomach, comes hunger.

The tinge of colour suggestive of feeding fish, combined with swift narrow runs flanked at bends and obstructions by gentle glides, slacks and tiny whirling depressions easing through the creases and slowly, imperceptibly, diminishing to nothing, had raised expectation to unprecented levels.

Over-excited surface-bursting fish remain rare, but they are now occasional, while confidence and competition for a morsel in the chilling, constant curvature of the channel abound.

A week ago, the tiny River Leam sought to issue forth all its Chub in one magnificent morning.

Fish were so ravenous as to tear-off with large chunks of crust before the anglers' contact with them could be affirmed. Rod tips pulled round barbel like and clutches squealed in otherwise rural tranquility.

Eight fish between 2lbs 1oz and a touch over 3lbs came to the net in a couple of hectic hours while a match angler harvested eleven of these aquatic omnivores for a catch of over 27lbs the following day. 

Quite unprecedented action. 

Those 19 fish averaged 2lbs 6ozs, a fair reflection of the state of this oft misunderstood stream, it's potential shrouded by a paucity of suitable conditions, and yet it has recently been said this is "A River in Decline".

So the era when global warming manifests physically in the feast and famine of fish is firmly established.

Clear or coloured; low or threatening the fields; stagnating or vigorously flowing. Such are the extreme phases of the midland river in the 21st Century. A time when partly forced predation combined with the above climatic influences is turning, or has turned, our fish to increasingly nocturnal behaviour.

One wonders whether angling clubs of the future will need floodlights.


In a recent exchange with that expert Specimen fish pursuer James Denison, we were agreed that we can live with the natural balance that otters will ultimately create once back to a population balanced with their environment but when it comes to the invasive signal crayfish and ever increasing displaced cormorants there is no obvious solution, and, as with all these things, the answer will be considered long after the piscatorial horse has bolted.
What will this leave?

In New Zealand there is a purge on non-native fauna but where would we start, with so many established former invaders and introducees that one wonders what would be left if they were removed from the landscape and how that loss would now affect the indigenous species.

Perhaps rewilding, with the reintroduction of long-lost top predators and landscape-shaping species, would impact these flourishing animals the dissipation of some of which is now ingrained in our culture. The rabbit for instance.

No. It is far too complex to contemplate a solution but, one thing is certain, pot-shotting the odd fish-eating bird changes nothing. If it is man that has changed the balance of nature then it is men that have to live with it.


'Bumped into Zed-hunter extraordinaire Mick Newey on a new stretch of the Leam the Bloggers' Syndicate is trialling just after the aforementioned floods, and prior to the colour completely falling away.

Dressed resplendently as always he leapfrogged my swim at the very moment I had my best twang on the new wand, on its first outing.

Rather than plough the usual chub-likely crease, the day was to have been one of experimentation. The mini method feeder idea recently tested for big canal roach seemed, on the face of it, to be equally suitable for small stream, smaller species.

So arriving at the first swim, a bag of 'liquidised' at the ready, a long, steady glide around three feet deep looked ideal - nothing.

Working upstream, any fish facing away from me,  a deeper hole concealed in trees caught the eye. Tap, tap, quiver, twang and a handful of Chublet was eased back into the protected shallows bankside.

...And so it continued, until we met. The bite was struck sharply and a sparklingly silver fish twirled in frantic action in the clearing water. It had the look of a battery powered silver bream but of course it couldn't be. Soon the net slipped under the biggest dace I had ever seen in the pearlescent-clad flesh.

Now when I say biggest ever, the excitement must be tempered by the fact that I have never seen one over five ounces, but nevertheless the fact remains. Mick felt it could go seven or eight ounces and I underestimated, match angler style, the fish ultimately weighed-in at seven ounces four drams.

Perhaps a feeble P.B., but it was one, and that would do me, and, for me at least, that moment was enough to confirm the potential of the water.

Further swims produced other previous P.B.-shaking dace. All from steady, shaded glides over gravel.

The 'mini-method' displayed an additional virtue that could, just possibly, set it on its way to being a standard technique in the F, F & F armoury; it enabled the swim to be searched without risking over-feeding the wrong area and wrecking it before casting in. The rig could be flicked around various spots until the fish were found and then the feed built-up cast by cast, and, by increasing the stop shot size, casting weight could be adjusted neatly too.
Certainly with more flow and depth on the stream would take float fishing as well but it shows signs of being a tactic to employ with some regularity, and far less crude on casting than a standard feeder set-up, however tiny 'they' might make them.

That said, it is perhaps time to confess that the past as a 95% float angler has been completely turned on its historical, not to say "hysterical", head in this second, and last, wave of angling submersion. It didn't take long for the taxed and diminishing grey matter to twig that the effort and, let's be frank, discomfort of float fishing for bigger fish really is not worth it all that often.

Catch Mick Newey's blog here

... And James Denison's here

Thursday, 20 December 2018

The Film - the Truth of the Matter

The feedback on the Big Canal Roach video has been very encouraging. So much so that we're about to set-out on the next escapade, but, before so doing, I must right a wrong.


The making of this project was underpinned by two key rules that Eric and I set before we started that were strangely coincidentally cast in stone for both of us:
~ First and foremost - no product placement (even though my compadre is irritated in the extreme that we consequently did not state the hook or bread makes!).
~ If the quality we sought couldn't be achieved, or it seemed insufficiently engaging to us and our Guinea pigs, we wouldn't proceed.

It would be an ordinary angler, going fishing. 

What doesn't come across in the film, because it is primarily about the quality of roach to be found in predator-affected canals, is where the inspiration came from to pursue this ongoing venture chasing pound plus fish, and that must be put right immediately. 

Long suffering readers of The Flannel will know that, without any doubt the most accomplished and inventive coarse angling blogger yet, Jeff Hatt, was the first to prophesise that local zander affected canals were capable of producing roach of 2lbs.

This claim would seem wild and fanciful were it not for the fact that Jeff, his blogging keyboard and glow-tip floats now hung-up for the foreseeable future, could back it up with hard evidence of fish snared in the depths of winter at just a fraction below the magical weight. 

We made contact and started to collaborate to the point at which we shared an online spreadsheet populated with our big roach catches to see whether, over time, any unforeseen patterns might emerge. 

Sadly, not too long after this, Jeff lost the urge after life got in the way of his fishing, although his blog is thankfully still there as a resource of wise words for the angler looking to make sense of a situation. 

For me though this brief meeting of minds has been unquantifiable in its importance, with the basis of the method we depict and describe coming from Jeff's inspirational words.
It was he who re-resurrected the lift bite method Fred J Taylor had already previously brought to prominence from even older sources in more classic situations, including pursuit of Estate Lake tench, and applied it to canals at a time when match anglers were still reeling from their decline due to the advent of a lack of small fish and continuing growth only of the relatively few fish remaining.

Coupled with that favourite chalk stream specimen roach bait, bread flake, it proved an unbeatable combination that was and continues to be the best big roach method due to its crudity making it counterintuitively supersensitive. 

When Jeff's writing via the Idlers Quest portal first influenced my thinking I had caught 4 or 5 one pound plus roach from canals, all pre-1995. I'd returned to angling around 2011 with no purpose and no goal. I was going through the motions of fishing in a match style without the matches and it was inevitable that this was unlikely to be sufficiently enthralling to keep me active in the process. 

The experimentation with Jeff's technique was instantly successful with two roach of a pound and a three pound bream all falling to its temptations on the first brief trip attempting a similar approach on the pole. 

Over the following years, subsequently ploughing a lone gongoozling furrow, the method and, particularly, the feeding and hookbait size has been, dare I use the word, refined and various little alternatives have come and gone or occasionally become part of the arsenal of choices to suit circumstances.

However, one thing has remained constant and that is Jeff's influence. I think it's fair to say that barely a session goes by without me thinking back to that collaboration for one reason or another and it's sad to think that what exists may be its whole backcatalogue, but, as I always feel, be it in respect of otters or whatever, we must embrace the change and take on those new challenges with an open mind.

Of course I'm not the only one who wishes Jeff hadn't retired from the angle and it's, never so eloquently, written word at his apparent peak but he's in fine company in taking that route with sportsmen like Lennox Lewis, Nico Rosberg and Pete Sampras all choosing that option as champions in their own fields. 


So, yes, the film wouldn't have been made at all without Jeff's influence and, as I said to him only yesterday, had he still been active we would undoubtedly have contemplated discussing the prospect of producing a video on this subject with Eric together.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

If You Complain Nothing Happens!

The process of complaining is riddled with a lack of challenge. Degree of difficulty 1 out of 10. Zero being the good old, tried and tested, 'do nothing' option

It is of no greater import therefore not to be seized by that hair-triggered mantrap

To place irrational blame at the teeth of the otter; at the clarity of the water; at the bill of the cormorant; at the whimisical flow; at the indiscretion of the poacher; at the paucity of boats; at the glut of boats; at the clarity of the sky or at the myriad other potential scapegoats for the angler; is surely no more than an attempt to thinly veil a lack of vision, planning and understanding in ourselves

If the angler wishes to catch fish then surely she or he must prepare for that eventuality, and never more so than in the toughest of circumstances

On a certain day, faced with 'good conditions', one might choose to fish a float rather than 'the lead'; to feed caster rather than maggot; to find shallow/flowing or deeper/steady water, and so on. These decisions being based on their likelihood of success driven by a blend of experience, watercraft, common sense and gut feeling

That being the case, when faced with these options over a recent weekend - clear, strongly flowing canals; clear, only recently cold, pools, and; clear, slow, weedy and leaf-bestrewn rivers - what is the angler to conclude?

Well, we could narrow our options in the same logical manner an angler would select a float. A 6AAA balsa would be a touch oversized for the canal and conversely a 2no8 loaded dart would be a pitiful bite indicator for the Severn. So do we know of any local canals that fish well when they are much clearer than normal? Experience says, "No". The next thought springing to mind then is to consider short dawn or dusk sessions in shaded cuttings or tree-lined stretches when fish will be emboldened by low light levels and an associated feeding reflex.

Pools were going to be tricky but pursuing perch or other predators could have been viable choices in clear cold water.

Rivers compare favourably with the canal options except that the odd feature might hold the odd feeding fish during the day, but beware that 11am to 3pm piscatorial vacuum!

Surely the whole point of angling is the challenge and a major part of this, for the thinking angler, is the planning. Making decisions on venues that will produce some action if logic prevails. Maybe this is the difference between an angler and a fisherman?

'They' say angling is defined as the pursuit of fish with an angle, a hook.

Today though I like to think the contemporary application of the word 'angling' is trying to deduce how to catch the target fish by looking for an angle, much in the same way as one might apply a unique personal meaning to a song written about something completely different.

It would be relatively easy to whip a few sprats from most venues even in the aforementioned tough conditions but when such situations prevail it has to be preferable to apply every available ounce of craft to the situation and limit oneself to dusk and dawn adventures which will often offer-up similar results to those of a whole day in snooze mode.

Like many animals, larger than average fish are crepuscular in their feeding habits, albeit perhaps increasingly nocturnal with the increased threat of predation.

Bats, as an order of mammalia, forage earnestly at, and just after, dusk but then have a lull in this activity and it is no coincidence that anyone's experience of fishing at such periods is that the peak opportunity for that trophy catch is around this time and at dawn, with noticeably less action before and after, generally speaking. 


The above was written a fortnight ago, but now, after a week of rain, the local rivers are finally flushing through with a colour and pace that suggests excitement is around the corner.
I'm off now to prepare for that very eventuality but before I do this Bear of Little Brain has been mulling over an appropriate 'angle' to focus more tightly on the perpetual quarry, big canal roach, especially for quiver-tipping into dusk.

How could it be possible to ensure the bait is in the right place in the dark with the combined risk of not wanting to shine a torch over, or into, 3 to 5 feet of clearing water?
What flashed through the darkness and into mind was a superlight mini-method feeder, or at least what I thought one might look like...a tiny coil with bread squeezed into it.

Next port of call, China. Followed by these little beauties in the postbox...

Weighing-in at a gnat lighter than a bluebottle, these far Eastern coils seem perfect repositories for a handful of liquidised bread and, being stopped three inches from the hook with the usual flake floating above it, suggested the perfect night time solution. 

A trial in daylight hours seemed the logical conclusion.

The coil was far too light to clip-up at the mini-range, as it just bounced back off the tip, however it didn't take too many attempts to achieve a regular landing point, emanating ever increasing circles, on the far edge of the boat run.

The liquidised worked very nicely and we (the 'cut coil' and I) actually promoted more bites than had been the case in recent trips float fishing; very often 'one bite, one fish' sessions.

Strangely the first fish might have been target size but certainly was not target species, as a very much out of season, but mighty welcome, Silver bream chewed on the white flake and in doing so tripped itself up.

The bite was positive and no problem to hit with a nine foot wand. So proved the case with the ensuing two roach though the only one of note caused rather more excitement with passers-by.

The event was enhanced by that educated ejaculation, "I didn't know fish grew that big in here, in fact I didn't even know there were any fish in the canal. What is it?".

Certainly crumbs for thought. I wonder where this might take us?

Canal roach on a method feeder! Whatever next?!

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Lead to the Canal

Experimentation had been intriguing but, perhaps, raised more questions than it resolved. 
The changing season had nurtured the urge to seek out that regular cold weather adversary, the roach, and not hand-sized roach but two-hand roach. Anything over a pound of silver would be considered gold.

Since spending a month increasing the carp P.B. by way of a distraction from the generally poor angling conditions other options had seemed so unappealling.

A couple of dawn sessions delivered only hybrids and smaller roach but the changing of the clocks and the prospect of a couple of hours trap-setting at dusk proved a suddenly irresistible challenge.

The idea appeared justified but the sound of oncoming narrowboats up to and after dark stretched the F, F&F congeniality reserves to the brink. 

After around five sessions of this nature it seemed fairly obvious that not to have started on a Sunday would have been wiser. Midweek has been more palatable but not a single evening has gently drifted by without it being punctuated by chugging death at a time so late to be at best plain rude and at worst in contravention of the CRT Boaters Handbook.

Initially the same bombardment of bread mash habitually applied at dawn was introduced on arrival but, with late boats, this was ripped, swirled and deposited everywhere but 'the spot', rendering the whole palaver futile.

Subsequently feeds were only introduced when it seemed quite unlikely that boats were just round the corner poised to send me round the bend, but, even so, on not a single occasion has this proven correct.

On that first visit it was very difficult to detect lift bites with an isotope so the wand was unearthed, fitted-up and engaged. A single swan-shot link was used with a flake of bread popped-up 2 to 8 inches, and, despite the boat irritation, on all but one trip the target aimed at has been hit.

Four roach from 1lb 4ozs 6drms to 1.5.8 have been netted but at the rate of no more than one bite per trip and always at dusk; leaving the post-daylight, apparently likely period, devoid of activity.

I'm left wondering whether bread is an unsuccessful option after dark. I've always thought of it to be a visual bait for roach and so it wouldn't be a huge surprise if that proves to be the case.

To advance this however there is another issue, that of signal crayfish being increasingly active at, and after, sunset and maybe a bait change would be necessary.

Emotionally it was a challenge on the most recent attempt, just yesterday...
A firm, determined pull on the tip on an unusually crayfish-free night resulted in a battle with a good strong fish. So much so that the clutch needed adjusting. Trying a new area, nothing above an ounce had been seen to rise at dusk and so even the bite was a relief but during the fight I allowed myself to dream.

It felt very roach-like and heavy. The pinkness of the fins on surfacing in heavily coloured water added further to that diagnosis but above all when the fish eventually lay flat and beaten on the surface it had that unmistakable shape.

A heavy sudden gasp for breath and the breathless words, "My God, it IS a roach" hissed out into the darkness like a burst tyre, and well over two pounds for sure; as confirmed when I had to lift it onto the bank.

Incredulous, wired and shaky, with the fish getting ever closer and the dream it represented then laid out on the bank, the head torch illuminating its features, blankness.

A vacuum of thought. 

Momentary confusion.

"This could be a hybrid".

It was.

As close a hybrid in appearance to a roach as one could imagine (in the dark), but a hybrid indeed, and somehow the disappointment barely registered. I've come to like hybrids for that extra fighting dimension and their ability to outgrow their slimier parent in canals.

There's time yet for a bar-raising roach with winter waiting to take over.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Something Completely Different

Eric Weight, of Artificial Lite blog, and I worked on a project last winter and now is therefore the appropriate time to share it

This is our first foray of this nature and it has been a great challenge but hopefully it will be suitably received

I cannot thank Eric enough for his expertise, advice and honesty in this journey.

Click Here!