Sunday, 30 December 2012

A Predatory Storm

Where to start?

Well, the continual rain had to be braved after ducking-out of two consecutive early morning trips to roachland and fortune favoured the decision as the drizzle held off long enough to enable camp to be made

The general area of the venue was one visited earlier in the year when two skimmers were taken while after roach on rod and line Conditions now seemed more than perfect however. The unseasonal air temperature was 10degC and the water felt less cold than of late (speculation wouldn't be necessary in future as I returned home to find the present of a water thermometer on my pillow!), there was a variable ripple on the water with 20mph winds blowing overhead above a bank, the water clarity was good with visibility to about 6" down, ideal for bread and the combination was suggesting a good roaching day ahead

Furthermore there was the option to fish as long as 'necessary' with only Parps to take Warhammering late in the day

The general location had been known to produce very good roach catches in the distant past but it had changed a little, less overhanging branches and shallower on the far side which formed the outside of a widening bend

Two areas were fed with bread, one halfway up the slow far shelf and one close to the bottom of the steeper near shelf to the left. I had also, for the first time ever, bought, BOUGHT!, some lobworms to fish for chub during the holiday, so, with the rivers more regularly in the fields than within their banks, the opportunity to use some of those before they expired seemed, well, opportune, and they went in to the right on the same close line just on the off-chance and with the hope of snaring one larger than those to date

The wind proved something of a greater challenge than first anticipated and fishing the far line proved somewhat tricky but, after much fiddling with rigs, depths, etc., a bite was forthcoming after trying both bread lines and returning to the far line. The fish came off the hook on the return but didn't feel huge

After an hour the bread lines were rested having been re-fed and an inch and a half tail of lob lowered into the worm-laced area to the right, viewable under the dripping hem of the now soaked brolly. This met with a couple of immediate bobs and pulls before the float slid away and a perch of around 10-12ozs came to the net

Perch came thick and fast over the next half hour topped by a pound and halfer, just 8 drams short of the PB coincidentally taken just 10 pegs or so to the left on Boxing Day just over 35 years ago, as a junior in a senior match; I seem to recall a reel was purchased with the proceeds!

Cracking perfectly formed canal perch at 1lb 8ozs

The worm line was regularly rested and re-fed while bread was tried again and again however no further bites were attracted with that method and soon the reason was to become apparent

Next put-in on lobworm produced a fish which felt quite different, a more 'kitey' fight than the 'digging' of the previous perch shoal. It took a touch longer to tame and, once tiring on the pole with no.6 elastic, it popped up to reveal itself as a zander. Immediately obvious as another PB having taken my first of a pound and a half only a few weeks ago. This one went 1-15-0

This was followed by another perch and then a smaller zander of 11ozs before a fish was lost of noticeably more significant proportions

By this time the weather had deteriorated quite dramatically as the brolly tried to turn itself inside-out while that great sprinkler system in the sky let loose. Bites had subsided and another dabble with bread was tried but then abandoned for good as, upon returning to the worm line, another zander of 2-11-0, and another PB, fell to a huge chunk of lobworm dragged past its nose

PB canal (or anywhere) zander at 2lbs 11ozs
A couple of lost fish and another zander of just over 2lbs was taken before the swim tailed-off and the longest canal session of 2012, at five hours, came to a close. By then the weather had subsided from quite foul to mildly objectionable - but this did serve to keep the boats away with just three gentling chugging past

The best catch I could recall from the previous life was around 10lbs of roach from pretty much this very peg but this was to outstrip that quite comfortably as the eight perch (not quite a full team but enough for five-a-side and three subs) totalled 7-0-5...

So not the tidiest of pictures but the conditions were swamp-like at this stage 

...and the four zander (they would keep control as the officials) dragged the scales down to 6-5-10

Toothy monsters looking bizarrely dead due to their natural gaping posture but very much alive

For this to include two zander canal PB's on the pole and a perch within a gnats whisker of the ancient canal best in the same session was quite some Christmas present and more than made up for the lack of roach. It also gave credit to the worm option and in future this is something to keep up the thermal sleeve although it wouldn't want to interfere with the roach quest but may well be deployed on longer sessions and come into play if, at the hour and a half mark, no roach had been tempted

Interestingly, being a newcomer to catching zander, only one of them was properly hooked so the need to keep pressure on them is clearly paramount. These did fight quite well in an aggressive breamy kind of manner...but then they were on the pole!

Monday, 24 December 2012

A Black Christmas

Words cannot adequately describe the feelings of a youngster on Christmas morning. One is highly unlikely ever to have read it suitably couched in words, least of all here for Chrissakes!

The smell, the lights, the colour, the bells (Esmerelda), the anticipation, the fear, the faint nausea, the relief.

The all pervading excitement

Imagine then hoping for your first carbon rod. The one you had was top class, a Bruce & Walker 'Flyer', but carbon fibre was the great black hope, if a touch untamed and misunderstood in its early incarnations. Such a wand really would be the ultimate Christmas prize

So to come down on Christmas day and smell the oranges, the mince pies, the nuts; the sparkling tinsel & disney lights; the warm glow of the scene and to see three individually wrapped sticks each one thicker than the last. To a teenage boy before teenagers were invented; this was indescribable. Nothing else mattered nor came near, frankly no other gift around that period, apart from the ill-fated Chopper bike experience, even features in the admittedly addled memory

The feel of the rod through the paper was sufficient but of course it had to be opened. The anticipation.

Nothing could be opened before these, they were too important. As the end of the Santa-clad paper was peeled back it instantly revealed not carbon but bamboo. What was this?, a Sowerbutts pole? I already had an 18' EARC Ray Mumford model why would I need a Sowerbutts pole?, besides it would be far too heavy! No, this was no Sowerbutts pole...and nor was this one...nor this one!

No...these were no ordinary rod joints these were The Old Duffer & The Old Trouts' worst ever prank...bean sticks!!

The shock. The misery. The RAGE!

How could they do this?!


A few WWII 1:72 Airfix soldiers, orange & lemon jelly slices, chocolate smoking set, socks, hankies, shirt and tie later and the misery had not been, nor could be, quelled

How COULD they do this?

With mid-morning, dressed in the finest mostly new stuff of course for whatever reason, came the meek words "Go in the sitting room George I've just remembered there might be something in there for you that we missed", "Yeah sure"

Off I slouched, in that manner we now recognise as pure teenager, to be confronted by a bazooka-like shape. On taking-hold it tipped to one end and, on unwrapping, became a tube with end caps.
Inside - the shiniest black gloss varnished joints with superb lime green whipping, gold writing and individual stoppers to each ferrule

This was no ordinary rod, no. This was a Bruce & Walker CFR 13L. The finest float rod money could buy


...and was followed by the most eventful one hour fishing trip prior to Christmas dinner one could ever imagine; fishing the direst stretch of canal in the history of angling, a Mute swan hits some high voltage cables with an audible 'crack' and somehow survives to fall into the water having staggered through dense undergrowth in a quite literally shocked state some half an hour later to paddle away, somewhat mis-firing, down the cut such as could not have happened on any other day

No bites, no fish, and pure bliss all at the same time, words that don't usually occupy space in the same sentence

(It was still a rotten trick though)

In use. River Nene on the (then) new cutting, Northampton. 1977

With Yuletide apologies to M&S and their marketing juggernaut

Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Test

The two least desirable times to pursue 'thine angle' are subsequent to a snow melt and to melted ice. Experience of fishing after snow has melted tells us that this is the most likely time for fish to clam-up and choose not to feed at all. Any bite is a bonus and time is better spent decorating a house, no greater insult can I pay the situation

Conversely, fishing while iced can be very productive indeed, especially on canals, if one can be bothered with the labourious task of breaking it. It appears perhaps to partly insulate the water so that the temperature below remains relatively constant, which has it benefits under the conditions of a longer-term freeze, and gives the fish a greater degree of confidence due to the perceived shelter they are afforded

So the prospect of chasing a big roach this weekend could not have been further from fruition. Canal ice was broken by boats on Friday and then rapidly melted by Sunday so Christmas shopping would surely be in order for the weekend

A sudden burst of mild air across the country however changed that and the challenge of actually getting a bite superceded the potential to lie-in. Both The Dog and Parps were laid-up, cold-ridden, and The Lady Burton comatose when the alarm rang-out at 6am so the outdoors seemed like an altogether more attractive option, even if the probability of silver crossing the palm was miniscule

At the first bridge it remained too dark to set-up (peaked too early again) and so I had an urge to try a stretch which presented three options in terms of type of swim; natural with trees oposite, natural with low vegetation opposite and piled both sides. Having wandered one way and then the other a glimpse of a topping fish, and then another, made the decision; these could only be roach and although they did not appear to be large in the murk anything would do today and the likelihood of larger ones in the same location was high. The sight of active fish also had that convincing effect that today could indeed be better than forecast

On the basis that the cold ice-water would have descended immediately into the boat channel, which was wide here, two spots were plumbed to the same depth one each side of the channel slightly up the slope of the shelves and, hopefully, above the 'too cold' water line with a mental picture of the Dick Walker 'thermocline' image springing immediately to mind

This was a departure from the norm. Usually, with a maximum of 2 hours to dispose of, one spot just past middle would be selected but this Sunday two 'holes' to fish would keep things just a touch more lively and increase scope. There was also a long-held memory that big roach could be taken closer-in here than in most other locations that could be brought to mind and this was an opportunity to test that theory when it least mattered if it failed

Sloppy coarse white crumb, comprising liquidised Warburton's blue medium sliced white bread subsequently frozen and then mixed with some fine crumb, to add a clouding effect, was introduced from more than four feet above water level, the resultant plop being intentionally sought, on both lines

The test match went on, care of steaming to the iPhone, as Captain Cook's men pursued an unlikely series win in India; not something ever done before on my part as the sound of the natural world is all-but always preferable but this was important, a critical stage of play on the fourth day and so much so as not to be missed. 63 for 1 at that moment, Cook just out, a dodgy decision apparently

It was yet another dull start to the day, the dawns heralded by sunlight have been few and far between this season and this was no different, thus the possibility of listing a few birds by sight was low so they had to be identified by sound while the wait for a bite progressed and, thankfully, no difficult ones passed through; blackbird, robin, chaffinch, blue tit, great tit, moorhen and later goldfinch, mute swan (they could be seen!) and wren, plus jackdaw, carrion crow and woodpigeon, the latter scattered overhead by shotguns being discharged to the north

An early boat came through quite gently, barely stirring the beige silt as it headed west, and a second light feed of each line was made once the water had completely settled and a check made to avoid pronounced lock movement

Compton went for about 30 and there was again some doubt as to whether he had nicked it before it struck his pad when a sudden silence descended as the battery died. The phrase "Hmm, so much for that idea!" replaced it

Alternating the two lines it was something of a surprise when the float quivered close-in and a strike hit nothing which was put down to signal crayfish without a proper lift to strike at. Last time camp had been made near here crays were avoided by lengthening the popped-up bread flake tail to 6" so an immediate decision was made and next put-in the float dithered around and was left to materialise, potentially - a few tugs as if a claw was pulling the hooklength to drag the bread down toward it's mouth but followed by an obvious lift and, after months of practice, this triggered an immediate upward jerk then the surge of emerging elastic to the right as the fish, a roach from the shaking of its head, was drawn away from the fed area

After an excellent fight the pristine beauty slipped over the lip of the net and unusually this fish, which went 1-3-0, looked less than pound. The keepnet option was discounted today as the pickings were likely to be thin and that was more than possibly the 'one bite, one fish' which would exceed expectations. The perfect specimen was released 30 yards away

The thought that this might be the only fish led to the inside line being gently re-fed and then the far line being fished but a blank 15 minutes soon had the rig re-deposited on the previously fishy spot to see it sail away at odds with the lift-bite set-up and another similarly-sized fish was felt which put-up a greater struggle than the first as attempts to dig down were made trying get into roots under the pole tip but, soon after, another cracking roach was tamed albeit with a small bloodied patch on it's flank. This one appeared to be a touch bigger than the first and it was with mild disappointment that the scales indicated precisely the same weight at 1-3-0

Another carefully navigated boat passed-by without fuss and both lines were very lightly re-fed, more by way of a reminder than a further helping of food...and the sun came out

Soon after a first bite on the far line, as a flock of long-tailed tits twanged there merry way rapidly past the spot, and a rather enthusiastic strike caused the fish to burrow for the far bank straight through the fed area. This one, whilst acting in a roach-like fashion, felt noticeably larger but as I eventually lead it away from the target zone the hook pulled-out and a cloud of blue air surrounded to culprit

Once calm and rationality had re-established itself the far line was again lightly re-fed and left, immediately a bite was missed 20 feet out followed by another fish on. The impression this time was of a smaller fish, as was the case when it hit the net, but not without it making a valiant attempt to dip the scales past the pound mark. They settled at 0-15-13 however. Maybe by March

What ensued was a period of confusion

What time was it? Was it worth another cast or two? Should they be fed again?

The conclusion was made to have one more look across at the far line and again the float lifted and a good fish was hooked only for it again to pull free half-way back across

The winter shoal was well and truly located. Armed with this knowledge the resistance to using anything other than bread would definitely break and caster would now come into play as the quest to improve the PB would become more intense. Start on bread and wait for the caster line, down the very middle, to come alive for at least two hours, now that was a thirst no amount of melting ice would quench

As the scene was surveyed boats were coming from both directions and so the decision became inevitable, and the phone being plugged-in to the car confirmed the end of the days' play. England had a lead of 165 with a day to go and 7 wickets in hand. Trott on 66 and the world's best batman, due a score, at the crease - what could possibly go wrong from there?

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Winter. Delivered and Sealed with Wax

These breathtakingly sharp mornings really make you realise you’re alive at this time of year and, as the weather seriously ‘deteriorates’ around New Year, some spectacular feathered visitors enter the garden where it adjoins a marshy field, the source of much of the water that passes along the brooks splitting it  into three as it happens
The regular frosts set The Lady Burton reminiscing on the vagrants accommodated in the few years we’ve lived here and while doing so The Dog also expressed the wish to go to Warwickshire Wildlife Trust HQ at Brandon Marsh east of Coventry to photograph the waxwings he said had been seen there regularly in preceding days
On searching the Birdguides website feature Bird News Extra it became apparent that this small winter visitor to Britain was enjoying another ‘explosion’ year to these isles, an event which usually occurs, it seems, when the berry crops in their native Scandinavia are poor. There were a number of records of small flocks of birds, perhaps not as many as two years ago, but a good number nevertheless, in Warwickshire but also Northamptonshire and Leicestershire both of which are close-by
Now, as with angling, if you are not a twitcher chasing rarities, or swims guaranteed to be full of fish, it is simply a case of being in the right place at the right time and those right places are suitable berry trees, usually rowans and the like, which the slightly larger wintering thrush  species have not got to first. And the most likely location for such tree species? Modern housing estates and supermarket car parks!

This little research also showed there to have been a small number very close to where I work (if you can call it work, emergency services, oil rigs, that’s work). Next morning a slight detour took me past ‘the tree’ and lo and behold there they still were, 12 of them dangling at all angles from branches like massive tits, so to speak, to get the very last berries from the groaning sapling within feet of the nine o’clock traffic...and the only day I hadn’t taken my camera with me for about two weeks...there’s organisation for you, I’ll be forgetting my bait next! My colleague managed a ‘Wow’ but inside I was bubbling over, I’d seen one in profile two years ago near Lutterworth but this was the first time a proper view had been obtained in all-but 50 years. The Old Duffer was immediately informed, or at least his ansafone was, but whether he made it out there before they departed is yet to be discovered

When we arrived at the office to spread said excitement Becca couldn’t resist the attraction and returned armed with some good photographs considering she was using a compact camera and, later that same day, they were gone - the tree completely stripped bare 

Waxwings are extremely colourful birds if you are fortunate enough to get the sun on them, we didn’t, with little yellow and red blobs of colour looking like parts of the wings have been dipped in bright sealing wax (for those under thirty - think brush bristles dipped in custard and letter-box paint) and their pronounced crests set them apart from other birds. They loiter in high trees near their feeding locations which then, most notably, seem to be attacked in the afternoon as they proceed to strip berries in gorging sprees between fleeing back to the vantage point and they will often stay in one location until there is no food left at all. Hardly optimal foraging strategy for these birds slightly smaller than a starling but a strategy nevertheless and if one has flown hundreds of miles across the North Sea to find food maybe it is too risky to leave any for the thrushes

That was the engaging event of the week and totally eclipsed this morning’s tour of canal bridges looking for an ice-free peg, needless to the say the warmth of the house was soon returned to and a normal working day resumed...well, ‘normal’ except that it involved a long discussion about the state of the earth, man’s destruction of it and the of principles Gaia; now don’t get me started on that again!

UPDATED 08 12 12 with some our own (that's The Dog and I) waxwing pics taken on Myton Road, Warwick during a semi-twitch, i.e. we had to go to Homebase so why not?!

Gaia, A New Look at Life on Earth. James Lovelock, OPB, 1982 (& subsequent publications)
The Birds of Northern Europe, Birdguides App

The Owl and the Fisherman


The weekend saw the first real cold weather descend upon our little world and the risk that the weekly canal visit may be curtailed by ice hadn't really hit home until the car read-out confirmed a serious -5degC at 6.30 on Sunday morning. The option of a small river had flashed into view the previous day, while undertaking the dubious pleasure of moving the washing machine, but the levels were assumed to be too high after the equally frustrating recent extended heavy rain

Somehow the realisation that a crusty canal might be found on arrival had been pushed to the back of the mind and so it was still quite a shock to the system when it transpired and appeared quite thick already. A look at the Grand Union Fosse bridge the day before had shown no sign of ice and this had probably mislead the mind

So, with no gaps to be seen, a trail was somewhat delicately blazed to the next two bridges east before a free stretch was found; not at the least in an inviting location and frankly one from which I could barely muster the memory of any weights over a pound. Needless to say confidence was not exactly soaring but at least a couple of hours, or such time as extremities lost feeling, would be spent out in the thick of it

Would the fingers and toes need resuscitating after this
There were probably four pegs free of ice apparently caused by a trickle of water running in under the road bridge. Shop would ideally have been set-up closer to the frozen sheet because fish always shelter under the ice when it is present but instead a position 10m short was chosen as there was a cables warning post at this point and, if nothing else, it gave something to lean some kit against

Even the bread groundbait was frozen

The usual procedure ensued and, after an hour and a half, when, as anticipated from recent experience, a bite would have been expected, if one was to be forthcoming at all, confidence ebbed away and the last thirty minutes reverted to a general gawping around session interspersed by the odd great or blue tit diving in amongst the invasive snowberries opposite to chisel away at a sustaining morsel to which the birds were attracted on the ground beneath on numerous occasions, perhaps they were ash seeds but it wasn't possible to be certain
Foraging Blue Tit
Fieldfares, blackbird, robin and dunnock were also rummaging around in the shambolic overgrown bank facing, and crows plus the occasional calling gull passed to the east

On moseying back to the re-frosted car, having wiped as much from the gear as possible the thought dawned that if this stretch was free, with no great rush to get home for a change (and the governing factor being how long it would take for the cold to penetrate the seven upper body layers), could other more inviting areas have been options

A sure sign it's chilly, an elastic swing-tip

Gone are the days when a lump of steel on an ice-cutting chain would be hurled across the surface like some massive industrial Arctic can-opener to free a peg, as the joints have a few too many years to get through yet to reach three score and ten, but secretly it was known that this really was the requirement

The possibility that other options might have presented themselves two hours before was too tempting to ignore and a quick detour confirmed the somewhat unnecessary fact. Yes, more likely spots were ice free, and may well have offered a greater chance of the odd bite...or maybe not

Undeterred the challenge was set to check-out the Upper River Leam and give it a go later the same day and stay into dark

Well by 3.30pm it was positively balmy, no cattle appeared to be in the field and only one other distant angler could be seen as the revised set of kit was set-down in a slightly boggy situation following the rivers' falling levels over the past week

Light was fading fast and the yellow quiver tip was pronounced from the outset as chunks of flake were trundled and occasionally anchored in the crease where the rather racy main flow met stiller water behind a rush bed. Rough-liquidised crumb was introduced but no definite taps were noted in a two to three hour session, perhaps a smelly bait such as meat or lobs would have been more likely

No sooner had darkness descended than a tawny owl started meekly hooting in the village as various members of the thrush family sought roosting refuge in the willow carr beside me.

The gloom grew thicker and the glowworm-like rod tip more luminous as the evening set-in, by now the sense of an impending repeat frost was all around but, despite various items of tackle being wet, it wasn't as cold as it had been in iceland this morning and that sparkly glint never materialised.

As the rod tip arced under the repetitive pressure of receding floodwater the corner of my eye caught a large ill-defined shape swooping down the tiny river course past me, low over the water, barely any further away than the rod tip and settled in a willow which straddled the water to the right. "I'm not your owl", I muttered, after Hermione Granger, as the brown owl took flight again and headed further away still following the riparian beat

The ground was rock hard as I trudged back from the second of two bite-less trips in one day, but deep down this was expected. The head torch still hadn't appeared so a borrowed conventional torch illuminated the field gate left open by the other angler, no harm done as no beast were present but not advisable tactics in the countryside

As long as it's possible to keep warm there's nothing to beat the sights & sounds of the waterside at any time of year. Next I look forward to a river in better shape, some snow on the ground and a bronzed chub in the net, a scene which looks pristinely idyllic in photographs

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire, J K Rowling

Thursday, 29 November 2012

When is a fishing trip a birdwatching session?

Recently, when pursuing the usual one bite, one fish tactic, it became apparent for the first time that more of the session than ever before was actually spent gazing around me than on the superficial object of the outing, the float
Now, given that the bite when it came would be visually unavoidable this was not to be seen as an issue necessarily but it did confirm that this really was something completely new. Match fishing never felt like this. The thought that one might take an eye off the float for long enough to identify a female reed bunting perched in the phragmites was unthinkable, literally the thought would not enter one’s head
The prospect of sitting for hours without that degree of focus would have been a n-starter. How could one possibly adequately compete if the commitment wasn’t there?
One thing which the more ‘specialist’ approach allows is the ability to drift into other worlds while one awaits the inevitable additional excitement of the initial interest followed by the capture
Those who are sufficiently in need of distraction to have followed this blog recently will realise that there have been occasions when ‘makes’ of dog have been suitably enthralling at times, especially those days when the one bite was looking dubious
The main secondary interest, though often obvious in their presence, are birds
It is unusual to rack-up a list of less than ten species while sat there enjoying the, often, morning canal-side air and there are passers-by putting in regular appearances which buck the RSPB’s perceived trend, most notably the bullfinch, a bird considered in such plight as to be ‘amber-listed’ as an expression of its conservation concern and yet, nearly always, present on the canal-side wherever there are suitably dense and continuous hawthorn/brambles on the banks 

Early morning, long distance, kestrel on wire
One remains ever hopeful of seeing the odd rarity, or even scarcity, under such circumstances but in reality this is very unusual. By definition it would be of course but it is noticeable that the canal despite its generally perceived ecological value is not all it might be. Passing as a very thin ribbon of water hedges and ocsasional trees through pasture and arable land is not an ideal substrate against which to promote a highly biodiverse ecological community 

However, with a reasonable level of appreciation of bird calls and song it can be fruitful to pick-up species passing overhead and it is this that has brought home the expansion of the raven in Warwickshire. Having once had the dubious honour of being the first person to see this bird at Rutland Water some years back it is one which always resonates when that deep gruff ‘cronk, cronk’ call approaches from any direction. Their growth toward the east seems to mirror that of the buzzard a decade or so previous

Long lens shot of ravens on tower
Strange things do happen though and in the same way that the angler might pursue a PB or another specimen of whatever species or size we always enjoy the unusual for reasons which really do not need to be explored. Three examples of this have occurred just outside Rugby in the past two years involving wading birds and, twice, the same species
On a day when only stale bread was available for bait (don’t ask) an attempt to concoct a paste out of it on the bank went slightly wrong. Ultimately despite the biggest topping shoal of fish to go at only one bite was mustered (as per normal!), the highlight of the occasion was the strangest bird call and one never consciously heard before. It emanated from two locations simultaneously indicating not one but two individuals and, thanks to the wonders of modern technology by a process of elimination using an iPhone app it was narrowed down to whimbrel, never heard or seen one before nor since. The closest bird was ‘clearly’ very close indeed on the far bank but concealed by the bankside vegetation between us at all times
The other two unusual sightings both involved woodcock and, again, remain the only encounters within memory although they are not uncommon in the right territory of damp woodland. The first was in a lengthy period of freezing weather when at first glance through a misty windscreen what initially appeared to be a female mallard was probing in the grassy verge by a quite busy road. Something however wasn’t quite right and a quick turnaround and revisit showed the out of place bird to be a woodcock forced to take refuge in such exposure where the only ground soft enough to probe was right next to the road. The next woodcock event was alluded to in a previous post when an individual wholly concealed in dense undergrowth on the far bank emitted soft croaking sounds for a few minutes, again unmistakably confirmed by recordings  
The trend however is for a list of around 10 to 20 species to be compiled in a two hour period with a certain bunch of core birds such as thrush species in winter and warblers in summer supplemented by the crow family, the ever present woodpigeon and, a personal favourite, moorhen plus variable finches, buntings, tits, together with mallard, mute swan, skylark, etc.
Redwing seeking haws at dawn
Returning to angling had, on the face of it, taken away opportunities to birdwatch. Previously a trip out to obtain a list of thirty or forty species would have been very enjoyable but the new found benefits of a more open-minded attitude to angling has allowed the two to flourish in conjunction so they both can be enjoyed and a fishing trip genuinely can be a birding session at the same time albeit within the limitations of the habitat
Let’s face it; it’s just about being out there!

Birds of Conservation Concern (RSPB)

List for 16th November when the fishing interest was just one roachXbream hybrid of a tad under the pound in a session from 7 to 9am:
Moorhen, mallard, fieldfare, kingfisher, gull sp., redwing, starling, house sparrow, robin, blackbird, magpie, carrion crow, woodpigeon, jackdaw, chaffinch, blue tit, wren, bullfinch, raven, song thrush

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Pawns or Prawns? The complexity of the sport

Someone once said angling is the most complex sport behind chess. Certainly it is complicated but not playing chess leaves me at a disadvantage. I recall British Grandmaster Nigel Short (still number 45 in the world at the age of 47) playing Gary Kasparov for the world title and being addicted to the apparently tedious spectacle even when Short was so far behind he needed snookers to stay in it (as Ron Atkinson would have said, if anyone was still interested in him). That interest didn't hold so strongly with anyone else I knew who had shown any enthusiasm for the earlier stages and I firmly believe that it was a background in angling and believing to the very last second that anything was possible that kept me glued to it every day. Whether angling is more or less complex than chess though, is a moot point. Certainly the combinations of possibilities are huge in number if we want them to be but for the less experienced angler, or the occasional angler not willing or particularly bothered about learning much, then chess must be way out in front in the permutation stakes. For an angler of a certain experience and enquiring mind however the factors to take into account and draw conclusions from are vast in number. I would suggest whatever branch of the sport you choose to pursue this is the case once one has a certain back-catalogue of experience to dip into and, while increased experience leads to greater awareness, there are more associated possibilities and it is fascinating that the experienced angler is best able to sift through the irrelevances and conclude that some thing or other will be likely to succeed on a given day. Much of this is influenced by pre-planning - the selection of venue; required tackle; preconcieved bait needs, weather forecast, etc., but a far larger proportion of the contributary influences are resolved on the bank as things progress

In reality the few hours spent in pursuit of my partciular quarries since returning properly to the sport this year have been somewhat one dimensional in that I have gone to a venue with a preconcieved idea and stuck it out come what may and regardless of relative effectiveness. This is contrary to my previous match fishing outlook when I would have been seeking to employ as many as five methods within the duration of the match, juggling them in an attempt to keep fish coming for the 3, 4 or 5 hours as appropriate. Not only did this require a certain understanding of each method to possibly produce 'the goods' but also an ability to apply them in a suitable sequence, evolved on the day, to maximise that catch potential

If I were to set-out here how that might typically work it would seem, when written down, quite simple but of course it required years of honing to be able occasionally to get it somewhere near right by reading the water and interpreting the factors on any given day to suit constantly varying circumstances.

A simple list of factors seems somewhat inadequate but without resorting to novel proportions it will focus the mind on the enormity of the challenge:
  • time of year (God it's cold)
  • time of day
  • length of session - fixed in competition, possibly flexible if not
  • general weather but mainly temperature, before and during the session, and wind impact (Hard frost this morning?)
  • level of other disturbances such as boat traffic, lock movement, walkers, etc
  • potential lulls in other disturbances (will the boat traffic slacken off at lunchtime?)
  • water level, colour, flow 
  • target (species/weight or other)
  • methods pre-selected to be used
  • methods adjusted or introduced during the session
  • depth and physical profile of swim (shelves, deeper holes, etc)
  • features of swim - overhanging vegetation, weed beds, gravel beds, etc
  • baits - predetermined and taken to the water's edge but as selected and deployed
  • rod, pole, whip? (one, two or all and multiples thereof?)
  • matching rod/pole/whip to circumstances inc elastic choice for pole
  • basic method - float or lead (various types inc feeder options)
  • selected rig(s)
  • assessment or predetermined preferences against prevailing conditions (aaargh my casters are still in the fridge!)
  • final (immediately pre-session) planned approach
  • feeding options - loose feed, groundbait (light/heavy, dry/sloppy, flavoured, etc) other variants/combinations 
  • in-session adjustments to approach 
  • predetermination of sequence of methods to maximise potential of swim
  • selection of areas of swim to apply each method
  • line type (numerous now available)
  • main line breaking strain or thickness/diameter, also for hook-length, for each rig
  • hook, size and pattern for each rig
  • weight/size/length/tip colour of float, lead/feeder type
  • shotting pattern
  • depths set *up in water, at depth or *laid-on (*& by how much)
  • hookbait in relation to feed decisions
  • surface skim
  • floating/sinking line
  • rate of feed of each selected 'line' or location to be targeted
  • etc, etc, etc

1983, and more floats than you can shake a, erm, stick at
The list is extensive but not exhaustive (though I am exhausted having thought it through!) and of course most, if not all, of the post-commencement conditions can and will be adjusted to suit during the session as it evolves

Okay I accept the chess player will have a certain number of moves ahead pre-planned, perhaps the whole game if everything goes perfectly to plan, but I really struggle to believe that it can be more complicated a set of options than confronts the experienced angler when he or she alights at his or her peg...and, before this, the weekly wrangling over where to go, what type of venue, where am I even allowed to go?, etc

I recall quite distinctly when I first started travelling, to what I subsequently realised to be very good venues, being overwhelmed by my lack of understanding of literally any of the above but very slowly, trip by trip, conversation by conversation, year by year, things started to unfold. I remember setting myself season-long targets for a five-year period over which I tried to teach myself how to fish certain baits determined on the basis of which I thought might be most useful that particular season. Eventually this lead to a reasonable appreciation of what was required to make use of them under various ambient influences but it was a long old job and, as with all things angling, just when you think you have arrived the piscatorial bus pulls away before you can walk to the stop and you are left realising that the natural world is far more unpredictable than you had hoped as you seek directions to the nearest drawing board

For me it is this eternal internal churning, sifting and deliberation of possibilities that is firing me towards the bank once again with unbounded enthusiasm and optimism. Sure I could get into chess, that would be possible, but the wind wouldn't blow and the rain wouldn't fall; and I wouldn't smell the waterside; and absolutely, certainly, I wouldn't see the red fin of the roach nor eye of the tench; nor hear the reeling of the grasshopper warbler in the scrub, the peeping and blue flash of the kingfisher. No, there is an altogether more entralling aspect to all this than the above can even scratch the surface of.

Is it going to be a frost this weekend? Well actually, now that I happen to mention it, yes, possibly; temperatures down to around 3degC it seems...can't wait!

World Class Match Fishing, Kevin Ashurst. Cassell 1976
Ron Atkinson
Met Office iPhone Weather App]

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Roach on Bread Update - Round 2

Roach of 1-4-10, last week
 A comment on my previous post left me in no uncertainty that I had not covered all of the important angles in my previous attempt so I’ve covered a few more seemingly important factors here to fill some of the gaps
The gnome impression is probably best:
I briefly tried a roving approach of feeding three swims and alternating them and, while I haven't abandoned it, it seems probable that it is more likely to work only when you are fortunate enough to drop straight on them in one of those spots, otherwise I think they simply wander past whenever they do and that is when you need to be alert to the situation and capitalise; it is possible, by wandering around, that the shoal might even be missed. So, on that basis it seems better to stay put in the same peg especially if pole fishing, although roving with a pole is perfectly practicable if kit is cut down down to the bare minimum
From whence did they come?
As it happens the pound plus roach have all been fooled in the boat channel, usually right at the bottom of the far slope which is, of course, where we are furthest from their sight line and still within two or three inches of the deepest point. Bearing in mind this is before boat traffic starts and so they should be located there seeking out food they may not have been able to get to the previous day, on these heavily trafficked waters, but, having said that, if notes had been made of the locations of the larger topping fish they may have shown a good percentage of them to have been closer to the near bank than one might anticipate from the unhealthily centrally-heated warmth of the lounge
Size is everything:
Anecdotal evidence from Jeff Hatt confirms the average big roach size from the western end of the North Oxford Canal to be 1-7-0. I just knew his would be bigger than mine, it’s the hookers he hangs-out with early mornings There must be a logical reason why the fish at the far western end of the canal appear to be bigger on average than more centrally...if only we knew why. The canal at Hawkesbury junction is quite wide and on my single visit with Jeff it was clearer and darker than the stretches further east. The depth was not noticeably greater and one might expect this to be a factor in fish size. The average of those over a pound in my area of attack is showing as around 1-2-0. Now it is perfectly possible that Jeff, as a better angler, may take fish of around his average further east and, ultimately, south. Nevertheless one might expect that 50 hours’ effort would have thrown up the odd fish over Jeff’s average, but not so
Further west than the experiment has been run might well be worth a shot next if one can drum-up the enthusiasm to venture further afield at dawn. The canal stretches from the aforementioned junction in the west at Coventry, east to Rugby, where it skirts the north and east of the town, and then down to Braunston in the south some 23 miles distant, where the combined Grand Union and Oxford canals diverge again after converging at Napton, and the whole search thus far has been spent in an area just east of centre
No! Timing is everything:

Sunrise - you cannot beat it for uplifting the spirit
Early morning suits best as it then frees up the rest of the day whether that be at work or home but generations of specialist anglers accept that dusk and just into dark is the best time to catch larger roach and, as this is not something which had been attempted on this quest, it cannot be discounted that larger specimens would not succumb when light levels drop and feeding confidence rises. It isn’t just the user-friendliness of dawn sessions, but you simply cannot beat being up at that tiem of day and watching everything unfold before your very eyes. There is an undoubted invigorating ambience about this time of day that the average mortal is oblivious to
Other baits:
Lobworms have taken many of the good roach at the western end but, from past experience, this has never been a particularly successful bait for roach in the central and southern areas of the canal. Again however, an after dark approach may change this experience. I can only recall two decent roach on worm in all the hours of matches from the past and a lot of this may have been down to the fact that there were a good few decent perch to get to the bait first
Caster is an obvious one and, in all honesty, this would probably be more consistently successful than bread but an aversion to fishing tackle shops does not help when the only way to obtain the bait sensibly is to buy those run-off by the dealer or else to buy maggots the week before and riddle them oneself (the latter being by far the preferred method to ensure obtaining those huge, tense, multi-coloured shells that really hit the mark and instill confidence that a bait will really work
In my youth, we are going back a bit here admittedly, cheese was successful when it was hot and took some roach well over the pound mark particularly in hot weather which is also prime time for hemp of course. This latter bait can lose its effectiveness for the bigger fish once it is widely used, particularly by match anglers who (by sheer weight of numbers) can influence the habits of fish noticeably, and so the hope remains that if this was used sparingly and preferably in hot weather, but certainly in July to September, it may well produce some good specimens too

Water clarity:

Water clarity last weekend
This is a factor which seemed super-important when trying to build a net of roach in a match but in specialist terms is seems quite obvious that it is far less relevant and this has been borne-out on the last two trips, photo's of which catches were shown in the previous post, one in water where the view was at least a foot down into the gloom and another when the visbility sub-surface was no more than a couple of inches after heavy rain. I guess if the bait is there and a shoal move through they're going to find it and the only barrier is probably excessively clear water

So, still lots to find out and that's what makes it so captivating. More to follow I'm sure!

Ordnance Survey Guide to theWaterways 2: Central, Nicholson 1991

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Big Roach Quest with Bread Rolls On

Frost, fog and funnels

Having clocked-up twenty-five two hour trips over the course of this year, with a break from June to August, chasing bigger roach from the North Oxford Canal on the old favourite bait, bread, it is high time for some rationalisation of the findings
Before embarking on this quest a summary of a previous match fishing approach to bread fishing was set-out in back in February but that was a delicate punched bread approach and just part of a wider plan to snare anything that swam in the hope of keeping fish coming for the whole period of a match
This method potentially needed to consistently catch roach over the pound from venues known to hold them prior to about 1995, when the formerly unquenchable urge to stride-out on the competitive treadmill waned, and to be successful it had to directly target those fish, precluding their fry and cousins from diluting the result
Extensive knowledge of changes occurring on the specific watercourse, resulting in larger fish dominating and smaller fish almost disappearing, helped to formulate the concept fuelled by absorbing the occasional exploits of other largely Warwickshire-based bloggers
Prior to 2012 the extensive vault of results from the former life shows four roach at weights higher than the newly set bar had been caught in matches on the North Oxford. This wasn’t anything like a good average of course considering a conservative 200 matches (let’s say average 600 hours!) would have been involved over a decade or two but of course the beginning of this period involved teasing-out as many tiny fish (with the odd bonus) as possible, looking for 25 to 50 in two to four hour matches whereas towards the end the preponderance of small fish had evolved into an altogether different biomass as subsequently zander swept through and reduced the remnant population of natives to those over two ounces from whence they grew, and grew, to such a level in fact that fishing for their little brothers and sisters was no longer an option and slowly a new balance was restored with big fish needed to have any impact on the frame
It was unlikely therefore that things would have reverted back and the suspicion that the British Waterways policy of electro-fishing the zander over twelve ounces annually would not have been perpetuated, due, one can be certain, to falling revenues from canal angling, did nothing to change that expectation
So a brief dalliance in 2010 supported that theory with 3 one pound-plus roach in two trips that autumn with a gentle bread punch tactic 
By comparison, this year’s circa 50 hours targeted big roach fishing have thus far produced 12 roach over a pound using bread flake and crust, five to ten pence piece-sized, suspended 2 to 6 inches off the bottom with a lift bite method
Adopting a new method so religiously over a long period tends to focus the mind initially on the advice of, and gleanings from, others but then, as successive events unfold, one’s own experiences begin to influence the standard set-up. I say ‘standard’ but in reality of course it is an ever, if slowly, changing approach
The initial rig has not changed much. A 0.75g long cane-tipped ‘body-down’ wire-stemmed pole float with a bulk 15 inches from the hook and a string of 3 number 6 shot holding a 5p piece of flake close to the canal bed and a size 12 nickel wide gape hook to 0.08mm (1lb 12 oz) hook-length has only changed slightly in that the no.6’s have variously become a no.1 or a string of 3 no.4’s as bigger baits have been deployed (a string when bites are not so positive as fish are less likely to feel their weight). The hook need be no bigger than a 14 in reality and occasionally 16's have been used without detriment to the result

Tricks which seem to be useful however are probably more important; after all the only reason for the size of the weights on the deck is to hold down the piece of bread of whatever size; but the length of tail and therefore the distance between bait and deck has greater importance and the changing of it can have an immediate detrimental or positive impact. The default position is 2” off but when the signal crayfish move in (most trips) this has been increased to 4-6” and also when things are simply in need of change. It seems the crays aren’t so aware of the bait if it is higher above the bed but if fish are floating above them to keep out of the way of the ravenous beast’s claws they can occasionally be picked-off. The crayfish give themselves away when feeding as they produce little dimples on the surface like gentle fizzing something akin to tench bubbles and occasionally their tugging at the line to reel in the bread results in it suddenly appearing on the surface after it has been dislodged...time to re-bait!
Thursday: Roach of 1-4-10 & 0-11-3 with small hybrids. The big one was taken away from the fed area
Another thing which can pick-up the odd fish is to drop in a metre or so downstream of the feeding point to snaffle the odd fish hanging off the main feed picking-up crumbs floating by or, again, keeping away from the crayfish
The rate and quantity of feed has been a bit of a conundrum. Initially the impression was that it was counterproductive to feed more than once and on that basis a good helping in at the start and a patient approach waiting for the action was employed, relying on changes to the rig and its disposition to bring bites but more recently it has become apparent that at some locations a regular light feed after the initial helping has produced bites too. This still isn’t clear however, as it worked yesterday in a swim which suddenly came to life after ninety minutes (a kind of injury time recovery) producing 5 fish for 3lbs 10ozs, whereas today nothing would work and all that was caught was a small bream when trying to avoid what appeared to be a crayfish bite. Having said that, yesterday’s session only produced one probable crayfish bite and today it was one every put-in

Roach of 1-4-6, 0-14-10, 0-13-6 and 0-8-6 all taken in a twenty minute burst
The likelihood of getting an early bite seems to be quite low. Bites rarely materialise within half an hour of commencing and it is often over an hour before that massive lift bite associated with a quality roach bursts above the watery horizon. All sessions have been for around two hours after dawn, suggesting that interest from fish probably occurs when patrolling individuals or shoals simply pass through the stretch, and that the time a bite will be received is entirely unpredictable. This is why I have started to favour a regular light feed after the initial substantial introduction as, if fish are close-by, they might be drawn-in at that very moment

In terms of size, there seems to be a one pound four ounce ceiling at present, or the scales are stuck! I remain convinced that there are bigger fish to be had but the top few for 2012 have been 1-4-13, 1-4-10, 1-4-6, 1-3-12, 1-3-6 the p.b. having been shaken twice in a week without falling

The immediate future appears to suggest an attempt to avoid crayfish-laden locations but currently they just seem to be everywhere. If I lived on a boat the first thing to do would be to get a licence to catch them and then eat the armoured bottom feeders!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012



An opportunity for two hours outdoors before work came along today, the highlight of which was this pair of bullfinches taking-up residence in a bush to my right and devouring the dried bramble seeds (the male's head is just visible in the background 'south-east' of the female)

It will not be a surprise to read therefore that the fishing was unremarkable

A Very Still Float

The canal was completely full, and had risen a good few inches since the weekend, taking on a colour which allowed human vision only down to about four inches below the water surface; without a bite in the first hour and fifteen minutes I decided to move but, as I reached for my largely redundant camera to put it away, the float dramatically rose through the surface film and a solid-feeling fish was on. Better than reaching for the flask was this threatening to move tactic, and suddenly the camera was in action too!

A dogged, unexciting and somewhat bream-like fight ensued and I was certain that when it came to the top we would be looking at a 2-3lb bream. The first glimpses of the pasty canal-water-coloured fish confirmed it, as part of the body appeared at the surface


Just before I netted it the fish became fully visible as a zander, on a large piece of bread flake, so obviously not a self-respecting predator this fella despite one serious set of dentures

Feelings on the capture of my first rod-caught specimen of the species were completely neutral, in fact the overwhelming feeling was one of relief at having avoided the blank. Had it been a bream I might've carried-on fishing but the pound and a half fish merely served to confirm that it was time to move and coincidentally, as I started to wander to find another peg, a boat appeared through the bridge to my right and the next target became the warmth of the car instead as I headed-off underwhelmed by what was, by definition of course, a p.b. capture

I'm afraid these fish, even now after all-but fifty years in this country, leave me cold. They just look wrong and don't fit-in with my childhood dream of a balanced Mr Crabtree-style waterway, in the same manner as commercial fisheries. Sorry zed-lovers, I tried, but had no feelings toward the critter. For me he's just another factor to consider in trying to catch native fish

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Gems of Roach

Date: 28th December 1983

Waterway: North Oxford Canal

Catch: 66 fish for 2-8-0

50 Roach to 0-1-8
14 Gudgeon to 0-1-8
2 tiny Perch

There's sad, anal & obsessive...take your pick
 Today was the first time back at this location for 29 years and, as I had only myself to consider with the Old Duffer at his most exceedingly Duff at present and out of the equation, a long walk into the early morning darkness would not be putting me off. I chose a peg three through the bridge in the above photograph on the basis that it was as far as I'd got when it became light enough to see to tackle-up...the potential factors are being treated in an ever more simplistic fashion

A distinct feeling of excitement grew as I approached the stretch I had not even seen, let alone fished, for so long

The mind plays tricks over such a long period though but one thing was certain, the canal had become considerably wider since 1983 as the far bank had deteriorated such that the possibility of a rather shallow length of cut was likely to be discovered once the plummet had done it's job; like the chalk on a snooker cue, fundamentally important at first but then put to one side. Not so however, as a seriously steady depth bank-to-bank was discovered and provided something of a pleasant surprise on the first day I had been back this autumn without half-term boat traffic to contend with, and confidence was suitably boosted

The prey of course would be big roach; in 1983 it was tiddlers or, as we called them then, 'bits' at around 25 to the pound. Worth noting however that the gudgeon were huge and if you could get onto a nest of them in a match in the '80's they were well worth targetting when 2 or 3 pounds would be a framing weight

Yep, bits!
 The bait would be flake or crust over coarse liquidised white crumb; in 1983 it was red & bronze pinkies over a fluffy mix of brown crumb and Sensas Z-72 with a glass bottle of a secret ingredient included

The float would be a cane-stemmed pole float; in 1983 it was a grey pole float very much like a scaled-down traditional avon made by a canal angling maestro and, in my humble opinion, the greatest canal angler of all time, Billy Makin

2012 - a 2 hour session. 1983 - five hours.

Viewed from the other side, The same wide-span brick-arch bridge nearly three decades on 
The confidence was tested as it took over half an hour to get a bite, but some bite! The usual sudden projection of the float insert, an apparent change of heart and then a more certain lift, which appeared to wave it's arms and shout, "For God's sake strike. This piece of flake won't last that long!".

The fish initially allowed itself to be drawn to the right away from the feed but then tore back through it, scattering any hope of another fish for the foreseeable future. Not all that soon, but after a relatively spirited battle, a clonking canal roach was drawn over the part-submerged net. 7 hours this fish had taken and it was certainly a pounder

After another spell of anticipated inactivity listening to the bird life - chuckling fieldfares, chinking chaffinches, bullfinches calling their brief recorder-like note and rooks in the distance - it was time to risk another helping of crumb feed. I say 'risk' because it had been noticed previously that feeding again after the initial introduction would kill the swim stone dead but a certain feeling prevailed, a feeling that those fish which may have been caused to hang-off the feed by the frantic attempt to escape by the first roach could be brought back onto the feed by tempting them with another helping

Persistent rain and grey skies helped to keep the roach feeding well after dawn I am sure
It went in, but would it work? A lot of the larger particles floated to the top which made me wonder how much actually reached the bottom of this fairly deep area. First drop-in the bait barely hit the deck before another staggeringly unmissable bite and a strike into a noticeably smaller fish which was quickly tamed.

The next put-in also produced an instant bite and a solid fish was felt and played for a few seconds before it managed to slip the hook. Difficult to tell whether it was bigger than the first when we are only talking ounces of difference but it was a good 'un for sure

A carefully organised weigh-in in the rain at the end of a two-hour session revealed the bigger roach to be a cracking 1-3-6 and it's smaller friend 0-14-2

Silver Jewels adorned with Rubies

A quick check of the all-time canal list indicated that this one slotted in at third behind fish of 1-3-12 in 1993 and 1-4-12 in May this year. Another trek into the distance, dimensionally and in terms of time, would soon follow I was sure

No dogs seen today but a few heard. Sadly although I can tell a few birds by song I am not quite up to scratch with dog woofs so we'll have to stick with the feathered interest:
Long-tailed tit, blue tit, blackbird, fieldfare, rook, carrion crow, mute swan, greylag goose, woodpigeon, stock dove, bullfinch, chaffinch, high-level gulls (that's not say gulls in charge but high-flying ones)