Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Interlude

Having had a lesson in the craft of what one might (and not in any derogatory way) describe as old-fashioned rod & line fishing from Jeff Hatt two or three weeks ago, which you can mug-up on here
and even here, if you so desire,
I was tempted to roll back the years as they say or, as it transpired, roll back the eyes

Which reminds me of that time when someone on TV said (it may have been Harry Hill, I don't recall) "...and now the next episode of Casualty in which this week Charlie has an operation to stop his eyes rolling about in his head". Totally irrelevant, but it made me laugh at the time!

There was a time, in all modesty, when my rod & line skills were admired, admittedly mainly by passing Jack Russels and small children, but that makes it no less true to say. So I thought the prospect of combining my, still quite new, Avon rod with the, now compulsory, lift bite method would be a doddle. Jeff made it look easy and so, therefore, would I

When I turned-up without the customary blue dalek to sit on, without the matching blue matchman's (there must be a pun there but I just can't quite see it) rod, bait and net bags, my recently constant angling companion, who shall not be named for reasons which will be revealed later, was drawn to somewhat unfavourable words along the lines of 'goodness what unusual kit you have there', i.e. river roving gear of rucksack, ready set-up rod and reel, and nets

We had chosen probably the most consistently productive area of the N Oxford cut I am aware of and although in the past I was never fortunate enough to draw bang-on it in a match, as far as I recall, I do distinctly remember some good catches in between times including one net of over 10lbs of big roach on a red letter day when they just happened to all be in front of me and taking any bait almost anywhere I put the hook.

So this was to be a big roach expedition on rod and line

The early morning pre-narrowboat hiatus (can you have an hiatus before something?) was the customary target time and we arrived at around 5am to be fishing by 5.15. This week was my friends turn to chose the swim he preferred and I would make do with the hand I was dealt; using not inconsiderable logic, he sat opposite a dense willow to shield the rising sun from his eyes...'didn't think of that and I sat in the open between trees to have my inner eye scorched as the morning progressed. Fortunately the car now knows the way back and I didn't need to look, and furthermore, as I've been surviving on one bite one fish tactics of late, seeing the float wouldn't matter too much either

The plan wasn't just restricted to the rod. I also intended to try baiting three swims with the mashed centre of a tin loaf rather than sliced bread and even went so far as to leave the sliced bread back at ChezNous so that I wouldn't be tempted, it's the only way sometimes. So I would then have to use real flake on the hook too, my God!

The morning was quite glorious, if chilly, but you can't have early sun without the associated cold let in by the lack of that insulating blanket of cloud over the countryside, or, more to the point, heat let out by it. A deep mist lay over the water as we drove down and it lingered longer than normal on yet another in a string of breeze less occasions. Water colour looked good but sub-surface visibility was down to only about 4-6", not ideal for bread but good enough to suggest we would get the odd bite


Having prepped what little bit of gear I had brought I proceeded to feed what was to be my initial swim and then wandered along to two further pegs I would be able to remember due to distinguishing features without the need to mark the ground and did the same

The next half hour was spent trying to get the float suitably settled as the surface drag was stronger than I had anticipated with the early lack of breeze but this did increase as the session wore-on and a heavier rig eventually solved the problem with a no.1 shot necessary on the bottom (no, really!) and a string of no.4's as bulk above it giving the long cane-bristled slender-bodied waggler an option to lift if the fish nosed-down to pick up the bait and then righted itself simultaneously picking the shot off the bottom. Well, that's the theory, the same one I have been employing a touch more subtly on the pole

So I gave it 30 minutes in the first swim and then 20 in the next two


As I returned to swim 1 to suffer the sun a touch more the (angling) Artist formerly known as The Old Duffer was netting a fish taken on what he terms 'the poacher's pole' dangled in the side. It rarely fails and usually succeeds in snaring the odd perch, but not today, as 14.5ozs of slimline roach was plundered. It originated as a freshwater crayfish catching method many years ago using bacon but now those protected species are in such decline that we never see one

What did surprise us though was a deep croaking sound from the base of the willow he was sat opposite. Three or four slow croaks in series like a jumbo frog, it couldn't surely be a woodcock but sure enough when I fired-up the iPhone app of bird sounds it was exactly that and also confirmed that we have had them from time to time in the marshy field next to our house from whence The Lady Burton and I have heard that self-same sound in the night. Another tick for the garden, having long since dispensed grappling with the argument as to whether a 'hearing' counts as a 'sighting', well obviously it isn't technically a sighting but it is 'a tick'

So by the time I had got into the swing of fishing swim one again the dew on the Avon rod was so severe as to seriously impede casting as the line stuck to the blank. This took me right back to something I learnt at the age of about 12-13 when it was explained to me that match rods had eyes with longer legs to stop the line sticking to the blank and with lighter gear this was essential in rain or dew otherwise you wouldn't be able to cast. This had evaded my memory until this moment but if I were to try it again it would be with a different rod (and I probably will, 'can't be defeated can we?)

Eventually the float plopped into the right spot and on the second cast, to my great surprise I have to confess, the float popped-up and a lump was hooked. The beauty of this method is that the bites are almost literally unmissable it seems. This fish put up a real battle and I had greater difficulty bringing it to heel than a couple of river chub in March, a somewhat chubby round the midriff in fact, bronze bream was drawn over the net by which time matey boy had ventured closer to see what was talking so long to land. The fish went 2-5-8 as shown in the picture below and was followed by a pounder after I had revisited the other swims again after re-baiting them as I left them first time round, some twenty minutes later

No roach nor indeed any further bread bites, apart from the middle bits I nibbled myself, a child-like trait I have never shaken-off. Having endured four consecutive sessions without a fish a month ago I have now not missed a bite on bread in at least three trips...albeit I am only averaging marginally better than one bite per trip! Fishing throws up almost as many bizarre and pointless records as cricket, if you want it to. "That is the first bream of 2-5-8 I've ever had at 7.25am while wearing a blue shirt in May", staggering.

A last cast on caster as I packed away resulted in a missed bite with two casters on the hook and one of them coming back crushed, probably by a confidently feeding roach. So be it, it was time to leave to get the boys to cricket practice anyway, why they want to bother I've no idea as all of the games are washed-out anyway

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

A Trail of Crumbs to the Big Roach

A pattern has started to form. Stillwater Saturdays and Canals on Sundays, Parps prefers ice cream sundaes but that will have to wait until it warms up (will it ever?!)

I'd had my eye on a certain estate lake for many years and after a mid-week recce between appointments the time had come. During the actual session, apart from learning about the venue in terms of its topography, etc. I spent a good few minutes in discussion with a passer-by who turned-out to be a former british barbel record holder and subsequently a pursuer of massive Thames chub. He had a bit of useful information on the venue and having spent the morning after roach which produced a 31-fish net of 5lbs with fish to 4ozs including some solid little rudd and a solitary perch I now feel better prepared for a return trip in pursuit of something a touch bigger

A pair of tame, if non-descript, little estate lake ducks
The female took many trips beneath the legs of my box! 

I had forgotten how beautiful rudd could be. The first of the new era 

Sunday the quest to break the North Oxford Canal p.b. resumed with a first return to the same peg since this adventure began. The attack would replicate the previous weekend's except that wandering the towpath the previous evening would stand-in for stalking a topping shoal. Not a single fish was seen on that walk but the changed face of the venue was quite disarming; ten or more years since my last visit and huge rush beds had been removed to leave wide sweeping bends in their wake and frankly the heavier colour after the incessant trend of daily rain did nothing to make it any more desirable, give it a decent pre-christmas cold spell however and that would all change too as the colour drops out and the bready tinge reestablishes itself.

The lack of active roach did nothing to crush the confidence in taking at least one proper fish early the following morning as this was the area I had taken two individual pounders with a 3lb bream a few weeks prior and is historically an area which holds big roach year round. Bread flake over fine white crumb and a coarser freeze dried liquidised bread at the bottom of the far slope was adopted with caster fed 5m to one side.

The Old Duffer was on fire with about ten bites, a couple of pull-outs and a big roach plus some decent perch so show for his maggot attack 3/4 across. His roach went 1-3-0. For my part the attack at the cost of avoiding smaller fish was again high risk but knowing the fish were present it was also no risk at all - one bite, one fish. Quite a strange looking, pre-photoshopped fish in fact like the head and middle of a really decent roach maybe weighing around 1-8-0 attached to the tail of a 12ozer! No doubt in my mind that this was a roach though, despite this. Maybe one which had been touched by the electro-fishing plate years before? When suspended from the electronic scales I was expecting around 1-1-0 but when the ounces went to 20.8 I had to snap myself into conversion mode rather quickly, concluding that this half fish, half fish, fish was in fact the bruiser to break my N Oxford Canal p.b. at 1-4-12. In hindsight the front end was quite chunky compared to its somewhat lacking rear but I suppose we all rather hope that the p.b. will be that perfectly formed Liz Hurley of a fish...never mind you can't have everything!

1-4-12 North Oxford canal P.B.
Next day saw me return to the location of a recent rain affected blank. 'Why?', one asks one's self. Well it was actually an attempt to get to perhaps the most likely area for those pound plus rutilii but again the moored narowboats appeared to have scuppered prospects when viewed through the early mist. Consequently a seat by the bridge on the 'wrong' side would have to do. An extended plan was to be deployed here. Lobworm over chopped worm 5m out at the base of the near slope, bread flake at the base of the far slope and maggot further across towards the concrete piles. However two of these plans needed adjustment on the bank. The tub of lobbies I had amassed over the previous two weeks from the garden when opened looked distinctly like bronze did the second box! 2 pints of maggots on a canal unlikely to produce more than a couple of bites seemed a touch excessive and sure enough I had left the worms at home! Conversely the maggots were turning and so I was able to select a few casters to flick across to the top of the far shelf quite regularly and, more to keep me amused than anything else I threw a few maggots to 5m very few minutes As per the previous day the only bite was hit and the resistance of a really solid roach ran though the elastic and into the top four of the pole after it had initially somewhat meekly swam towards me. Once in the net this looked a far more 'text book' fish than yesterday's, the right shape in the right places and quite stocky too. The Duff one eventually tempted a bite, even after he had convinced himself, and myself, that he wasn't going to catch anything at all. His was also a roach, of around 12ozs.

A decent roach is drawn to The Old Duffer's net
A very tame dunnock gave more bites than the fish as I threw him a few maggots and a female mallard with 12 of those little motorised ducklings devoured more of the bread.

That which had devoured a nice piece of flake however pulled the scales down to 1-2-4 and as such goes high in the all-time list for this canal, but not high enough to threaten the top spot

A chunky 1-2-4 roach in the hand
What is becoming apparent is that if one were to draw a graph showing the pound-plus roach taken during this search they would fill a vary narrow band from 1-0-0 to 5ozs above that weight. I remain convinced that fish over this size must exist as Jeff Hatt has taken a number above that weight at the very western end of the canal and I know that the areas I am fishing are capable of supporting fish hovering around the magical two pound mark from past reports of weighed and witnessed fish in years gone by. Obviously big fish will eventually die but the capacity to support them exists and so with that and the generally absence of small fish in mind my confidence stays high while the scope for the piscine biomass remains for the slack to be taken up by roach, perch, odd bream and zander. It may be case of tracking down those larger fish if they are shoaled together or it may be that they exist as the odd individual swimming amongst the pounders; the latter possibility is my preferred dream and I think it's just a case of plugging away until I find one with this neatly targetted method. Next I am inclined to step-up the rigs to a heavier level using larger flakes of bread possibly from a tin loaf (a la chub fishing) rather than using sliced bread. For now the North Oxford canal p.b. is broken, just, and, while not ecstatic, it is a very satisfying feeling to have acheived it, even if only by an ounce.

Roll on next weekend, and warmer dry evenings when the after dark option will present itself