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)

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Juvenile Hybrids, a 21st Century Tale

It was frosty first thing and the towpath, which yesterday would have been muddy in places, was crisp on top and recently trimmed vegetation lay white against the darkness at dawn. A certain murkiness appeared to pervade the water as the day tried to break through a clear sky, but for a couple of small clouds, and the chill started to mould the fingers as the search for the tastiest peg commenced
A wander along an exposed straight and through a farm bridge revealed the area I had done a recce on last winter but circumstances had not conspired to allow it to be tested it until today. A few yards past the likely lay a literal raft of willowherb that had been deposited in the water by the midweek mower so this confirmed the chosen spot on the inside of a slow bend with hawthorns opposite and dense bramble scrub behind
The stillness of the water seemed that bit more calm than when there is no frost and tiddlers were to be seen topping from first light right along the length, something I had noticed on another length some miles east a week prior hinting at potential regeneration of the North Oxford Canal for the future and when the extremely fine rain commenced it was as noticeable as it was light with each ring caught and accentuated in the increasing morning light
Gentle rain in the frost
On plumbing, the depth inside was staggering and, as I pushed the pole across checking every half a metre, it didn’t start to shallow-up until past middle and even then not severely. Now I fancied it even more but last time I visited the stretch crayfish had been a problem on a peg with cover across like this and so the decision was made to fish just short of the centre

A whole loaf had been coarsely liquidised in the week then frozen to dry it out for use over forthcoming sessions. A small handful was soaked in canal water and deposited on the spot from a height to make a splash. A piece of flake large enough to need a number 1 shot to sink it was deployed and I settled-in for a few minutes knowing that this method rarely produced early bites unlike proper bread punch fishing when bites would be instant if fish were present
Third put-in the float lifted in a somewhat jerky fashion and a fish was hooked. The elastic wasn’t too keen to emerge however and it clearly wasn’t a pound plus fish, soon an 8 ounce roachxbream hybrid was in the net. Next cast, another bite, and this time a touch more resistance was felt but still not enough to suggest a monster, at least this time it felt more roachy and sure enough one of around 11 ounces slid over the lip of the net but not before it had swum around the string that stretched the keep net out!

Two more proper bites followed given by another juvenile hybrid and, as yet, the smallest fish to fall to the lift bite/flake method – a 2 ounce roach foul-hooked in the ‘shoulder’. Hybrids of course are not usually caught at over a pound, even though they are relatively common, but at least they are naturally occuring, which cannot be said for invasive crayfish

As last week, and indeed the last visit to this location, the cray’s then moved-in and started pulling the line together with the beginning of a procession of boats, one of which amazingly was a Cheese Boat selling, it said, ‘Speciality Welsh Cheeses on the Waterways’, or words to that effect, really I ask you

Sitting it out and trying two other lines, one right across and one closer-in, produced only more cray bites and after two hours it was time to quit and dry out but not without identifying a couple more promising swims on the way back where long grasses lay on the water
Fish at last
These were consistently the smallest fish I had taken since religiously pursuing the lift bite method and flake but it was nice to get some proper bites at last and tomorrow morning I’d be back for another dose at another location possibly on this same canal, it had been tempting midweek to try a small stream but passing over the Avon on Friday showed it to be all-but bank-high and so another weekend on the canals was in order
Bird List: Mallard, Moorhen, Bullfinch, Great tit, Blue tit, Robin, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Chaffinch, Carrion Crow, Pheasant, Red-legged partridge