Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Up and Running Water

How narrow can a swim be? The narrowest I have ever fished by around 5 metres

Well, it happened

Health, almost, restored...mild temperatures...time to commence the new era and head for the canal river!

The horizontally, and vertically, meandering Leam was the destination. A new venue, nay river, for me.

New 11' Avon; half hundred-weight of gear distilled into one rucksack/seaty thing, I was amazed how little kit I could get away with taking; 5.6lb line straight through to an 8 with a link leger and later free-lining (freelining!!) big lumps of flake - what was going-on here?!

For a man brought up to fish in February with a single squatt on the finest of wire 26's to 0.55mm hook length in the hope of avoiding a blank on the hardest of hard venues this was the angling equivalent of changing from a Mini to a Land Rover 130 and expecting to get the hang of it immediately, or at least within the two hours I had set-aside before the Cup Final started - penalties, I ask you - in the words of Edwin Starr, 'There has to be a better way '

So there I was, the first peg that appeared deep enough and I couldn't resist stopping just there armed only with a John Dwyer White Tin Loaf and mental notes of Tony Miles' chapter on chub fishing with bread crust (this paragraph to be read in the style and accent of Neil Oliver, of 'Coast' fame, for full effect)

The emotion, the smell (cattle drink), the noise of unruly kids out for walk with parents all burning-off the roast beef, the birdsong, the unexpected warmth, the clear water and a feeling of prominence, the confusion - boy was I confused. The simplest of issues had me taxed; no towpath (no path, even), no level area, no seat legs to set me all comfy-like, the mud, the crackling seed-head remnants of last years tall ruderals to tangle in, no keepnet to set, no depth to plumb, no whistle to await or to race to get ready before. 'Okay, let's just calm down and get the seating position right', I told myself. Once that had been achieved, calm did descend and the thought of fishing started to come to the fore

The first peg and scene of much confusion

The simple set-up was copied from the mental note...a two swanshot link looped-over the mainline stopped with an AAA and a 6" tail to the aforementioned 8 hook, a hook which in a previous life I would have considered a possible contender as a gaff. This wasn't just new ground, this was igneous rock to my previous soft silt but there was one over-riding factor telling me this really would be okay and that was the manner in which Tony Miles had written his book. I felt the same in 1977, and many times since, when dipping into Kevin Ashurst's 'World Class Match Fishing', which, although ghosted by Colin Dyson, comes across as the advice of man totally at ease with his outstanding ability, displaying a confidence that could easily have been received as a sign of conceit if mishandled but was carefully balanced to come across as supreme belief in the methods rather than falling into the trap that some other fishing writers have been ensnared by over the years. Miles' matter of fact 'this will work' attitude had me convinced from the moment I read it. I just knew it could work, the rest remained to be seen

The water really was clear and the reflection of a passing azure bullet exaggerated the fact, kingfisher number two followed 20 seconds later on the same flight path (now a species of European conservation concern according to RSPB). I thought initially it may have been possible to see the bottom of the whole swim and when I had at first introduced a handful of mashed bread (prior to the confusion episode) into the restricted flow between bulrush beds it seemed to glow as it burst out into widening pool below. After I had started to fish however it became apparent that the crease between slack water and main flow, or what flow there was, ran into deeper water such that the mommy crust actually disappeared as it sank ('mommy' - chewy, not crunchy...The Old Trout's glossary of the essential terms of life)

I fairly soon realised that 2SSG was far too heavy but then conversely and immediately learned that it takes quite some weight to sink a 2" round tear of flake but after some jiggerypokery managed to balance the rig so that it gently moved round into the slack from the flow

Fifteen minutes of getting to know the swim accompanied by a fairly regular twitching of the tip - this bit I thought I would struggle with but, again, Miles' words helped me resist a change to a light rig in the need to catch anything that would bite - must have been followed by the kind of savage bite he had warned me about. I say 'must have' because I don't actually remember it, what I recall is striking and a fish kiting towards the far rush bed. This was where the Avon was to come into play, no line given, no option of back-winding here!, just hang-on and lean into it. Although the fish felt at least 30 times larger than my usual stamp it was tamed fairly easily with this kit, apart from a short-lived wrap around some weed on the inside

Safely in the net, the words 'it worked' emerged from the corner of my mouth, out loud and with a visible exclamation mark. Followed by the whispered 'how big is that?!' Composure was (relatively) soon regained and logic applied to the situation 'Okay it's not five or even four pound' and it wasn't even three but it was the biggest chub I've had for many a year. It went 2.5.0 on my trusty 'Little Samson's, dug-out of retirement and calibrated with the official and traditional bag of sugar earlier in the day. As I said, 30 times my usual stamp. Then came the flap about wanting to photograph the fish but being concerned about it being put back, so hasty pictures were taken, just to prove the capture, and we can work on that aspect some other time

Not a real chub by most bloggers' standards, admittedly, but certainly one by mine

The disturbance lead to the conclusion that in reality I was unlikely to catch anything else here. I gave it a while longer, without the previous constant tapping of the tip, and decided to move on to another peg for the next 45 minutes or so before I had to leave. The same tip-twitching activity occurred in peg 2, accompanied by the metallic squeak of a treecreeper investigating the gnarled bark of far bank trees on its vertical spiral, and here I also tried freelining, starting to understand what it really took to sink such a bouyant bait but there were no proper bites to experience at this point, the peg having been fished earlier in the day, and time soon drifted away

Peg 2, and the glint of a low sun
 Packing away took seconds, not half an hour, so that was also good and the walk back and trip home were undertaken with that long-lost feeling of accomplishment. However small this event may have been in the scale of things generally it was a big step for me and the first of many I am now certain. Already the target of a four pound river chub has been set as the next goal, although I am not into the realms of airing, sharing or even considering PB's or the like yet. That is some way off and I am not currently sure that is the route this little escapade is due to take, so much remains to be discovered much and yet I have fished for 25 years or so in the past. How blinkered we can become

The Complete Specimen Hunter, Tony Miles
Birds of Conservation Concern 3,
Distant memory

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Bread Roach on Canals (and Small Rivers?)

Bread and flake punches of various types and sizes

Bread was certainly my preferred bait over the years and the preponderance of blog posts on the subject in recently times has set me thinking before I soon take the plunge again in search of the present generations of roach and their cousins

One thing that immediately struck me was the number of parallels between the type of bread fishing I had done in the past, always on canals and (occasionally) drains. Apart from pleasure sessions, which in my past were few and far between and frankly purely geared towards sussing-out a likely method for a forthcoming match anyway, bread was employed in match situations usually either as a starting option on difficult venues where a weight might be built using a variety of methods over the duration of a 3 to 5 hour period or as part of an overall plan on canals with a greater head of fish just simply to usefully occupy the first so many minutes while other baits or methods started to work (and gudgeon weren't present). There was another occasion under which bread was in fact a far more critical ingredient and that was the occasional venue where it seemed, to me at least, bread was the only way to catch anything, let alone have a chance of doing well...something I never understood the reason for, and never will, but the fact remains. I note from current match results that on certain stretches of the Shropshire Union Canal match anglers are still very much reliant on this simplest of baits (if you don't bake your own!) to do well just as they were in the '90's

One of Lady B's loaves, complete with obligatory Jamie Oliver bread board, knife and pink cloth baggy thing - definitely not what you want to fish with...besides, the board would float. Nice eating though, it has to be said

So what were the key factors in 'fishing the bread'?

Time of Year
Bread would work at any time but of course 'its' chances of success against other baits in summer on venues holding, for instance, large bream shoals were minimal and so its usefulness would be limited to being one of a number of options on the day, it may not even see its way out of the bag. As autumn sets-in, and we move through that peak September to November period when fish are at their easiest to catch (peak date November 7th, you heard it's official. Global warming notwithstanding), the colour starts to naturally drop out of the water when temperatures consistently fall at night and the suspended aquatic life diminishes resulting in often perfect bread conditions if boat traffic was not too heavy and yet conversely still sufficiently high to ensure the colour in the water did not disappear altogether over that period time

Time of Day
Based on the above it is probably clear that the time of day could be described in a similar manner and it is therefore probably fairly obvious that morning and evening would be best with the former, before heavy boat traffic, distinctly prime roach time and early afternoon, following the lunchtime boat lull, the worst period with water clarity at its lowest

Water Clarity
The clearer the water the better within limits (i.e. not that sort of gin-clarity that would result in the fish moving out). That perfect Oxford/Grand Union tinge akin to green or brown washing-up water before the pans go in seemed to be perfect to keep the fish coming and the average size up. This was, I think, the main factor in bread's success on the day; it needed to be clear enough to see it (the fish that is, not the angler; if the angler couldn't see it, it was too foggy and way past home time) and yet sufficiently murky to give them the confidence to feed steadily

Fish and Size
Roach are of course by far the most likely species to be encountered (in excess of 90% of fish caught) followed by bream (skimmers) and then the odd gudgeon followed by fluky fish such as perch from time to time (I've yet to have the dubious pleasure of discovering whether dear old Gobio gobio is now extinct locally, as they were noticeably the first species to be hit when zander appeared in any stretch, which was very sad). The number of fish caught and average size would be greater in the colder months but the most noteworthy factor in this type of fishing was that the biggest fish always came first in a session and afterwards the size tailed-off the more one caught, although another introduction of feed could cause another, though less significant, increase in size and subsequent tailing-off. Possibly the only exception to this I can recall would be one of those stretches of the Grand Union where the fish were shoaled-up in winter and all the same size, as used to occur at Nether Heyford for instance

Ignesti Series 10, former favourite bread float...'shalln't be needing any of those! Just for clarification - I do not have a leather float box, although I do have a nice pair of wooden underpants...proper boxers

So how does that reflect in today's world and compare on small rivers?

I note Jeff Hatt commented that the size of his very first roach on bread would set the stamp for the shoal on the Warwickshire Avon at Saxon Mill recently (link below). On the basis that 'fish of a fin' will stick together on rivers that makes sense unless perhaps, as might be more evident on middle and lower reaches, the shoal moves on and is replaced by another during the session for whatever reason. Canal fish are less likely to be peas in a pod and a greater size and species variety is likely, from marrowfat to petit pois

The actual method which would have been used back then, on the face of it at least, appears very different but, in reality, is in fact very similar to the type Jeff and Co., employ if one strips away the irrelevances. Traditional bread punches produce relatively tiny baits but clearly the use of such bait on, for instance, the Upper Warks Avon would be completely pointless where a much larger bait is the order of the day partly to avoid tiny fish or unwanted species but largely as the design of the bait size is based around the target fish size (i.e. BIG)...Ikea pastry cutters at the ready (see Mick Newey's link below)

The feed is very much the same. Liquidised or mushed bread in fairly conservative quantities as an attractant with the amount offered into the swim reflecting, initially, the perceived population present and then in response to the events of the session

Expecting quality fish in reasonable numbers, and adding chub and dace to the canal species options, makes the forthcoming temptation of some river fishing with bread very enticing for me even if the close season (which I have to say I am relieved to find still in existence on my return to the sport, on our most natural of waters) is fast approaching

As for the time of year/day and associated water clarity...that conundrum I personally have yet to expose and dissect for myself but what I have noted from my recent avid blog-reading is that, in general terms, anglers seem attracted to small rivers when they are coloured as being the peak time to catch the resident fish, how does that work in relation to bread as a bait? My gut feeling is that dirty water might equal smelly baits

But all that remains to be seen...

Lady B's twee photograph archive

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Revivial Pursuit, or, Some Kind of Bored Game

Misty sunrise near Farnborough, September 2011.
One of the benefits of a job that sometimes has me out at dusk and dawn
Well, here we go...
It had to happen eventually. I tried to resist, really I did, and managed to for about two years, but the temptation overwhelmed me in the end, although I can’t explain why - even to myself
Having spent the best part of the last two weeks laid-up with some kind of flu-bug, the possibility increased as I started to improve and amused myself by reading a wider range of blogs but kept coming back to the same few that I found most appealing...largely centred around natural history and angling in and around Warwickshire (clearly some kind of hotbed with an apparent, perhaps disproportionately, large contingent of Bloggers in this very County...with Daniel having just started too and now this - what is going on?)
Possibility became probability, and, before I realised what was happening, I was trying to think of potential names for it, most of which met with the word ‘rubbish’ when consulted upon in-house (literally), perhaps I should have called it that?, (no comments here please, it’s too early to cope with any criticism!)
Anyway, I had to put that to one side as the temptation to be too ‘clever’ and produce something with multiple meaning took hold, which isn’t good for me. So I by-passed the name and went for the word on the basis that the name would come, like naming a band. It remains to be seen how long this will linger as a word doc until such time as I paste it in, all tidied-up like, as a starter for ten...but only I will know in the end (it was a week)

So what’s it all about? Well, I was in discussion recently about influences that make children turn-out the way they do. One could say it’s luck, and clearly to a degree it is, but if you bring ‘em up right it seems likely they’ll come back round to it at some point in the future, i.e. after the 13-25 period which, let’s face it, is probably only 10% of a lifetime, so not too bad at all
In my own case however that period was peak ‘getting out there’ time. Having been treated to an interesting bird sighting after school, visited the favoured watercourse of the time at a weekend or simply spending time somewhere, anywhere, in the countryside in my childhood - combined with general chit-chat about, and a, then, ever-increasing interest in, various sports and music this continued right through to that time when life takes a different course and one immerses one’s own fruit to be simmered in that multi-ingredient juice blended with your own twist in the hope that it, too, turns-out in a similarly rounded form
That said, it is hopefully ( more positive!...) probably, beginning to show through that this embryo-blog, more of a blegg at this point, is to make note of and consequently share events as I seek to revisit that world I once inhabited and extend it into new areas. I do not intend to thoroughly explain that world before I re-enter it as that will become more fully apparent as I proceed but hope to compare the present with the past in an objective manner when it seems relevant. The past will range loosely between 1975 and 1995 and will be contrasting various periods, mainly within that range, over-arched by the pursuit of coarse fish (the latter initially as an all-round pleasure/match angler and then for at least a decade solely as a canal match angler), birds and many other aspects of the natural world
Fortunately I kept my optical gear, as I use it for work, so no problem there, but the tackle collection has become denuded by sales, gift (by left hand rather than right, as the old saying goes), general rot and the tendency to narrowly specialise last time around. I won’t be match fishing again so there is another contrast to be experienced as I, perhaps, try to shake-of that ingrained desire to get a bite, any bite, and catch 'anything that swims'...or maybe I won't. That other contemporary ‘hit’ eBay is therefore taking precisely that and I have just taken delivery of what I would call my first ever ‘specialist’ rod, an AVON, my God, and me 50 next year!

We are fortunate enough to have a garden adjoining a marshy field which frankly offers sufficient interest in it's own right, especially in the depths of winter, not to need to venture far. The most unexpected visitors occasionally join us in the garden stream from time to time to avoid being frozen into the pasture and search of the odd morsel

Snipe from bedroom window. A winter visitor for a third consecutive year

Next time I post [if that is the correct ternimology (sic)] I hope to have something mildly interesting to record; it might be about revisiting an old fishing haunt, it could be about bats (flying, or cricket), birds, newts, anything that moves in fact (and some things that don't) or a wider comment but hopefully overall it will be sufficiently engaging to be shared by a few others as I re-take this journey

I hope to be introducing little quirks that have stuck with me from my trips, of whatever type, over the years but that little lot dear reader, if indeed you are yet out there, is where I’m going to be coming from, or more to the point, going to...'can't wait!