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