Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Leam Comes Good

Wren observes action with intent
 Today a somewhat reluctant response to the alarm with more storm conditions forecast resulted in the perfect day's fishing on the Leam, in fact by far the best yet experienced

Two chub of 2-3-14 and 2-6-6 on the lead...



...and then a 10 yard move to try the 'pin and a 9BB topper in the ideal glide as the already 2'6" high water rose some 8 inches further during the morning which produced a further three chub of 2-6-6, 2-6-6 (yes, really!) and the prize of the day at 2-12-13 all on mashed bread and flake.



A few roach to 6ozs, a dace and a minnow completed the catch of around 13lbs and at last the Leam performed as I had always hoped it might



There are days when you feel you have really achieved something and those when it just so enjoyable you don't want to go home, but a lack of food with me sent me home in hunger, more than anything, as the two hour trip had become five hours long!

The best session for many a day topped by nuthatch and treecreeper at close quarters




Sunday, 29 December 2013

Birds and Fish do Mix, Eventually

 
Sun rising on the swollen river

The Leam was two feet up today and falling. Two inches in the time I enjoyed at it's side in fact but 1.5m lower than at it's post-storm peak.

Parps and I have been fortunate enough to agree exclusive terms for a short stretch of what I would describe as the upper-middle river for the next five years. Pegs have been identified and carefully created without any obvious loss of cover, some even given names...tree hole, willow, the pipe, rush bed...nothing too imaginative though!

Thus far my partner has only managed to be ill at the critical times and so I have been sussing it out on my own. Three visits now and two chublets below a pound to show for them plus the rod pulled out of my hand well after dark on the one occasion

This morning those new pegs were starting to be exposed again after the floods by the falling water. A slack below a fallen tree was initially intended to be targetted with bread but on approaching the river bank it was clear that this frosty morning would be more than just a fishing opportunity this festive season as a flock of seventy or eighty golden plover rapidly wheeled in a synchronised flashing of brown and then white as they sought safe morning foraging in the water meadows downstream, ready for sunrise

As I settled in the silt-covered margins wrens churred and complained at my presence and a pair of wild duck took flight from the next field down. Pheasants crowed to celebrate the dawning of a clear day as the water spilled through the far side of the swim leaving somewhat slacker water close-in and leading down to an aquatic chicane created by opposing bushes at its termination. The glide seemed perhaps a touch too turbulent to be of any great benefit to the catch but it was comfortable and there seemed to be enough steady water in places to make the pursuit worthwhile

A couple of handsful of mashed bread went in by my feet in the hope that the flakes would dissipate through the swim under their own steam and the peg was searched from head to tail over the ensuing couple of hours before the need to wander overcame me. Avian fortune had been on my side while I nursed the swim to a couple of faint tappy unhittable bites with winter flocks of pied wagtail, blue and long-tailed tits landing close-by in search of sustenance. A robin and an expectedly nervous pair of dabchick also used the peg as a commute to their destinations

Dabchick behind (part of) bonus moorhen

Dark, but a hint of rising sun on the face of this somewhat flukily captured long-tailed tit 
Venturing upstream, the carcass of a pound perch cut-off by the receding waters had lost its eyes and a pair of snipe were flushed from the path to reacquaint themselves with the earth in an apparently frozen marsh further from the water after rapid, low, zig-zagging flights. Quite a surprise but not the greatest of the day

A few pegs were tried but insufficient slack was generally evident at this water level. What was obvious however was that with another foot or so off the level there would be some tempting glides in need of searching for roach with balsa or small avon

Blue tits twenty feet above my head, tricky shot
Soon the top of the stretch was reached at a fallen willow and the return trip offered two opportunities that looked different when viewed from an upstream direction; again no interest from any inhabitants but as I stepped into the next reed-lined spot a blue striated water bird flew from under my feet and, with down-curved blood-red bill and trailing legs, sought its escape mid-river before sharply angling right into the bank 30m upstream - water rail - a not uncommon bird but rarely seen except under extreme circumstances such as these

One final muddy promontary was selected for the last hour before yet another festive family lunch, seriously I have never put on any weight in my entire adult life but this Christmas it'll kill me if I don't, and probably if I do . At this point a moment of wonder as I found a tub of small worms and on they went. Taps ensued and then a proper bite which I actually connected with and a severely scale-challenged chublet came to hand - last cast. Phew, that was close!

And the moral of the story is, never put all of your bread in one basket

Saturday, 28 December 2013

'Tis the Season to be Chilly

The numbing of the fingers and toes is that bit more sharp and sudden when birding than angling but a lack of decent footwear for the purpose doesn't improve matters and neither do receding storm water levels, leaving the odd hidden mud or water-filled foothole, enhance the possibility of dry feet over a period of waterside prowling

By way of a change, it was time to revert to the original plan on Boxing Day and punctuate the angling-dominated posts with something different but still of the countryside

The Dog had taken dubious possession of a remarkably good quality 'mighty midget' spotting telescope care of Santa and, as his tripod was in Cornwall, mine came into play upon request. 'Play' being the operative word as the attachment I had wasn't entirely a snug fit and there was about an inch of slack in the mechanism, but we got there with some careful targetted jiggery and pokery

Instant success with a female goldeneye by the dam wall after a touch of confusion when the wintering diving duck appeared to stay under for around 15 minutes, bringing the unlikely but perfectly possible prospect of an unlucky kill by old Esox lucius to mind, the place apparently being well populated; but, no, we'd simply missed it when unsucessfully intermittently inspecting all of the loosely assembled great crested grebes for the chance of a red or black-necked imposter

The waterbody is split by a County boundary following the original line of the river unfortunate enough to have been dammed to build it, and which zig-zags through maps defining the two halves of the currently (sorry) treacly contents. Searching for records for the site is always entertaining, not to say, irritating, as they can appear in either County list

A busy and vocal treecreeper foraged on the thinnest of lichen-clad branches in scrub below the dam as a blue tit 'sipped' its progress throught those same bushes. These were the easy ones, but so long away from the cut and thrust left us needing the pocket guide quite regularly, this being the first determined spot of ornithology by an english stillwater for perhaps two years, certainly on my part, but we got there

The aftermath of the storm, and with more to follow, provided the substrate for tell-tale tracks on the paths, most of which were perforated by little deer hooves. Larger dog prints and the various sole prints of previous walkers marked the path to a deep-cut bay where two larger pink-hued white shapes among the innumerable coots and tufted duck gave away the presence of drake goosander. More closely inspected they were indeed both accompanied by ginger-headed, grey-bodied mates. A solitary male pintail bobbed around among those more prolific species in a heightened state of awareness at our distant, but no doubt obvious, presence as a flock of pochard dived for their lunch, here and there, in the chilled melee

By now the gentle breeze was starting to get through the lack of layers. Had we been roaching the cold would not have penetrated the interminable cocoon but when walking we were a few layers short of a thermal gateau, more of a moist fruit cake really, but enough of such admissions. Wet and unwebbed feet didn't help the situation but by keeping active and leaving The Dog to his scoping from time to time it ensured the retention of enough warmth for a fair stab at the entertainment. Next time preparation will be more thorough

A few jolly festive anglers merrily chatted by their cars as their alarms sat idly-by, waiting for the majority of the turbidity to drop out of the water. A fairly long-term dream we feared

Hen bullfinches raided the nettlebeds for leftover seeds with sun-powered blinding undulating flashes of white as they skipped ahead of us on narrow paths between marginal willow carr on the one side and hawthorn hedge on the other. Finely-barred wren and demure dunnock scuttled and skulked among the damp ruderal festooned with droplet remnants of an early receding fog. The peep of redwing and chuckle of fieldfare entralled our freezing ears as we stumbled, both literally and soggily in my case, upon a fall of apples but most of our resident turdidae failed to show with only the seasonal robin keeping up the family obligation of being represented on the ornithologists' list

Goldeneye proved to be everywhere, but unusally around the perimeter, presumably due to the water colour, with around twenty individuals counted and each group dominated by one sex or the other. Separate flocks of the two common goose species rowdily announced their imminent arrival mid-reservoir to be closely pursued by a handful of larger gulls which settled between the more hefty bodies, stretching and arguing over floating room

Soon the customarily dead iPhone (they really don't cope well with winter do they?) sent us rushing to the car park as we realised we might be late for a family lunch out. We just got there in time and belated list-making ensued whilst orders were placed; thirty-three we made it. 33 enjoyable but hard-earned species, all the better for the challenge and possibly the best option for outdoor engagement in the next week or so one might suspect

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Small River Chub and Roach


The big canal roach hunt is temporarily shelved with the North Oxford having relinquished it's usual strong colour to the invading cold nights and a distinct lack of roach in some usually key areas. There are still the deeper stretches to go at but, for now, the distraction of early evening River Leam chubbing has taken hold

Last season, and perhaps for part of the season before (I don't recall), the written advice of Tony Miles was implemented with as much commitment as one could muster for the cause and many things were learnt, not least likely swims and a knowledge of the venue which of course is fundamental to all angling quests

Having dallied with the syndicate water earlier in the season and then canals until an appropriate chill hit the air coupled with the most recent downpours, perhaps as long as a month ago, set the mind racing in another field, as it were

It was easy last season to say that the Leam is not the river it once was but who am I to make such a claim after just a few months trying to learn methods never before known? The river, in fact maybe rivers generally, are rarely in good shape for the optimum angling opportunity to present itself. Catching the colour and flow of falling river in perfect circumstances is very much down to luck and the likelihood of these factors merging together on a weekend are nothing less than pure fluke, but recently they did and things were good all along the river when, where anglers bothered, apparently there were good catches of roach to be had as their inhibitions were cast aside

I'm not certain how many sessions I've enjoyed on the Leam over the past year or more but I estimate it, against the loss of records for 2012/13, at around 20 or maybe it was only 15 but somewhere in that bracket for sure, and those usually short, sharp sorties were an average of no more than 2 hours long. Many of those estimated 30 to 40 hours bankside were spent fishing bread flake combined with mashed bread feed for chub and big roach. The target being to crack the 4lb Leam chub barrier so regularly breached by Mr Miles and his conspirees back in the heyday of this short yet intriguing water course



Mist descends on the valley
35 hours produced 6 chub and 1 notable roach to the novice small stream angler. Then, as I often committed to writing at that time, the venue was regularly well under par with low flows and clear conditions, and consequently I only recall taking two chub earlier than 30 minutes before actual sunset - both just over 2lbs as it happens. The other four came around or after dusk when I would occasionally fish for an hour into dark by which time I'd either caught one and killed the tiny restricted swim with the commotion or no bites had ensued and the roast dinner took over the immediate thoughts

So apart from the optimal conditions three to four weeks back, when as it happens I was trying to avoid roach and later regretted it!, the river has fairly quickly reverted to that same situation and catching decent fish in daylight has become a challenge

Saturday I ended up in the fortunate situation of having from dawn until just after lunch free to really have a go at the river and I had convinced myself in a previous evening session (which produced chub of 2.1.0 and 3.4.0 to link legered large flakes while watching what appeared to be good roach rising in the moonlight at an inaccessible area of the swim) that to return with a small cage feeder on a carefully spool-clipped cast and filled with liquidised bread was the way forward.


Two pounds of lipless chub

Difficult to see in this dreadful photo but two parallel lines 4-5" apart on both flanks set this fish apart
 And work it did but nothing over 5-6ozs was taken in a major experimentation session messing around with hook sizes, tail lengths, shot on the tail, etc., until I had convinced myself that a 20mm bread punch (I didn't want to go any smaller anyway), a nine inch tail and a simple link-legered approach was probably about the best I could do. Of course I knew that the chances of bigger fish were going to be scuppered by the timing of the visit, and so it proved, but nevertheless the option of trying this at dusk instead of the usual chub tactics will now add to the variety of options on offer. I also intend not to use the 11' Avon as the tips seem just a touch too stiff for roach and so the Wand will no doubt get an outing soon and we just pray that the 4lb chub does not appear on the evening (it will of course!), having said that the wand has coped admirably with hard-fighting fish over 2lbs thus far and so maybe I shouldn't unduly worry. I'm also pondering the option of a baitdropper using a short pole for certain baits to be fed, particularly chopped worms for perch if I can decide on a swim for the approach. This may be a better bet in daylight as perch seem to me to be the least bothered fish when it comes to feeding outside the hours of darkness, apart perhaps from pike

So the day produced around 3lbs of small roach, with one dace and one minnow, and the only decent bite I had was on the very last cast as I was putting a knot in the liquidised bread bag. Apart from picking up the flask I can think of no more sure-fire manner in which to conjure that elusive bite!


Pristine little fella
 
The greed!
Sunday evening I was back for a last minutes of daylight chub session in a swim I had seen last year but not seriously fished under then heavy flows. It offered a good flow under the rod-tip in a reasonable depth, an eddy to my right on the inside and another opposite behind a rush bed. I could just about make-out the C's painted on the water by the ghost of Mr Crabtree in various locations. I have figured with this early evening tactic that the best thing to do is to fish very close to the peg initially and gradually work ones way further away from oneself as time progresses on the basis that if you fish the very end of the swim first and are lucky enough to take a fish then it will decimate the rest of the peg in the time taken to force it upstream

So, first drop in, having introduced mash in various strategic locations, was in the eddy to my right and as I tightened to the swan shot the tip just continued to bend round after I had stopped winding the reel, I struck and felt nothing. Dropping in again produced an exact replica bite and soon a chub of a pound four was being reintroduced to the water with thanks for his boisterousness

Already an isotope was in order as it had taken a few minutes to walk to the peg but half an hour later as my casts had become increasingly long and searching, albeit by small degrees, another relatively gentle bend of the tip resulted in a good fight from a fish which took me under a submerged branch and after some cajoling eventually came out on a slack line only to then take me into the rush bed just 3m in front of me! This time a good ol' heave brought it out on top and across the surface into the waiting net. A perfectly formed chub of 2.13.0 and causing enough chaos to send me scuttling back through the descending mist after snagging on an invisible bush in the dark and losing everything that mattered soon after


The most recent victim
Already the short chub list, or chub short-list, equals that of last winter with six taken but as it gets colder, and the winter properly sets in, I really fancy this just might be a more interesting campaign than last year with another stretch to assess on the horizon with deep holes linked by fast-flowing gulleys. Meanwhile the cage feeder for roach tactic will be deployed after dark to see what redfins we can tempt, if any. I took one over a pound last winter and as The Old Duffer says. "Where there's one...there's one".

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Fyshes of The River Leam


 
The River Leam has a certain hold over me it has to be said. Not that I have, as yet, in around twenty sorties to its sometimes uncomfortable banks, had a good catch or even a seriously noteworthy individual fish but it is the wider engagement and enjoyment that drags one passively within its thrall

This past weekend, before the Virtual Gentleman had introduced and then released me from canal perch heaven, a morning was spent dropping lobworms and bread into various attractive swims which concluded with the angler needing to avoid the three to four ounce roach every cast in the hope of fooling one of their larger brethren of a more established year class into having a nibble. It is some change that has occurred that finds the weight-building yet slender and easily swung to hand roach of the match angler's dreams being shunned in favour of something more fruity and ample

Two swims, with the river at a declining a perfectly coloured level after the previous rains, produced small but strongly resistant dace and roach on baits aimed at pound plus fish of any species daft enough to succumb until I suddenly burst with the enthusiasm to fish an obvious peg I had always walked past as being, well, plainly too obvious. Here the roach were even more prevalent and anyone who was of a mind to sit and fill the keepnet for a few hours over the weekend would have been made-up, as they say in some regions (and on the stage), at the level of sport as the water hit it's peak of fishability for the first time this season

Clearly, in the selected domain, no one else had twigged this fact as there were no pegs that had been fished, save the obvious one, and the tall ruderal needed trampling to create pegs anywhere else. No stalking undertaken by the summer visitor here methinks



First cast in the obvious swim with a tail of lob in the hope of catching one of the, thus far neatly avoided but supposedly resident, specimae unawares produced my best Leam perch yet at a measly 12-14 ounces (not weighed, too muddy, couldn't move, boots stuck), but a fighter in the strong current. Then plenty of bites on a small topper running through the 3-4 foot deep glide toward a small raft and teasing the float either side of it whenever possible in that secretly-held hope that a leviathan monster thingy lies in wait just behind it...it didn't, but (the royal) we did have the pleasure of a couple of perfectly formed ten ounce roach before, having switched to a 1.5 swan link leger, the trigger that often makes me up-sticks occurred - a snagged rig and lost tackle




I had told myself I would try another swim, just briefly, before leaving for the day which had been cut into perfect form by last years' apparently incessant raging floods and this was the opportunity to try it. Creeping through the growth and carefully depositing a lobworm over the rushes into the undercut just beyond I felt no action until I sought to retrieve the source of anticipated temptation from the flow at which point a couple of gentle taps and the most almighty of swirls resulted in - nothing. The wozm came back unaffected and the fish undisturbed. Gut feeling says it may have been an opportune strike by a pike but we'll never know

That was the last of the action for the day leaving me full of questions and a burning need to return. Having made the spot eminently more fishable though not exposed I departed for the pleasures of the paint roller

Wednesday, arrived as darkness fell at the perfect undercut peg. Threw in three hands full of mashed bread and wandered downstream with single lobworm while it settled and the great chub of the Leam moved in, or so I dusk-dreamt

Tap-t-tap-p-tap-tap, over and over, and nothing to strike at. Again I could have, and would in the past have, relented and offered just the end of a lobworm; the lob, the worm or even perhaps the obwo middle bit but no a fully spelt and sized lobworm would bring the unexpected and as expected I returned, with nothing to show for the walkabout, to the perfect swim

A large piece of Warburton's best was wrapped around the shank of the hook just sufficient to gently sink against a single swan shot right under the rod-tip, silently and without a ripple. And nothing occurred

The beast in the field opposite became drawn to my ill-perceived concealment giving me away to first a magpie and then a cock blackbird which cried-out its shrill alarm overhead as it crashed into the bushes downstream to hide from the dark until the morn came and Cat Stevens serenaded him back into the open as if never before

Given that my method was tantamount to freelining I found it difficult to remain in contact with the bait in the increasing gloom but as I lifted the rig to refresh what was expected to be a limp and soggy bait - resistance. A surge. The perfect peg, whilst perfect in terms of its depth, flow and ease of access thereto, was only three metres wide between bank and opposing rush bed which, combined, defined the channel. I leaned into the fish and soon realised it to be my first river chub of the season and suitably sized at 2-0-13 though no match for the 1.5lb tc rod of course

The slim fish was gently returned a few pegs below and back we came for more, not expecting anything; it is a statement of fact that I have never had two chub from the same Leam swim in those previous twenty trips

The darkness continued to descend (as I have found it tends to during the evening) and I settled-in for what I intended to be an hour's committed concentration

More mash was added both after the fish and now and then as time slipped by until, some while later, a sign of life with a more gentle bite than I had been used to and a chub of just over a pound was soon spooned out and returned with the least of fuss. The risk had been taken to return it where I comfortably sat, given it was a relative tiddler, in fact my smallest Leam cub to date I suspect, as my headtorch was waning and I could otherwise see myself marooned in the field affeared to move in case the next step took me into irretrievable, and distinctly wet, trouble if it completely failed

Just over an hour into dark I was beginning to contemplate home and a roaring stove with the realisation that I hadn't quite put enough layers on and the chill creeping through to the neck upper back like myceliae of a spreading fungal attack. As they say in the US I hunkered down (we don't really have word for that, do we?) and reverted to mind over matter and absolute stillness until, on tweaking the bait for perhaps the fiftieth time of the session, it was ripped out of my hand by the actual quarry...I assume...the fight was brief and savage; and so I became, as the line parted and literally shot into the tree to my left like a bullet seeking an identified target. A further volley, though this time of verbal abuse, filled the immediate and by-now freezing air as I tried to make sense of the sudden loss of what would without doubt have been the fish I had sought since starting this affair with this small and intriguing stream

By now though the landing net had frozen into lace ice and so a quick dash back to car to tootle home and replenish the body's warmth was in order, and with it the opportunity to ponder what had just happened. In the cold dark of night (okay I admit, illuminated by various dials) it became clear that the rod had locked-out and the clutch hadn't been lightly set to suitably respond. Cue a revisit to Tony Miles' bible and next time I set the clutch to come into play at that very time when the rod fails you and the fish bottoms it out to its benefit

In match fishing times it had been so easy to back-wind when necessary and hope for the best as often, in the old days, playing a big fish for ages would be counterproductive and it genuinely was sometimes better to lose them but now losing them is failure and landing them is all

This is learning the hardest way and, for me certainly, I don't learn until something this dramatic has happened to make it sink in

At the end of last season a chub of 3-13-0 was no match for the same rod in post flood conditions so what size might this fish have been I wonder? It is to easy to say it was this big or that big but the fact is unknown, who's to say it wasn't wrapped up with weed too? There's no way of telling but one thing is certain, the mystery of this little river gets to you and its got me good and proper

Monday, 18 November 2013

A Lure of a Virtual Gent (or The Big Roach Hunt gets Upstaged)

The urge to seek-out new canals has taken hold as this one becomes big roach free with it clearing at the onset of colder weather

"Are you going to meet your virtual friend?", said Parps. If it were him of course, a twelve-year old, meeting someone he'd only communicated with online there would be no question, he wouldn't be going at all (and the police would be involved). He'd considered calling the police to say I was meeting someone I didn't know in a car park by the canal before dawn and then thought better of it as we'd managed to predict their advice unaided

The contact had lured me with tales of roach over a pound and a half, even nudging two, and perch over two. Now, I may be vulnerable to such an approach, it's true, but I'd never have believed I would cave into the attraction quite so meekly in years gone by. I have become so accustomed to fishing alone in some fish-forsaken rat-hole or other that the prospect of fishing with someone else has become almost a non-starter but the fact was this was a mission to further expand the canal roach knowledge and seek-out new frontiers to boldly go where no roach angler had knowingly gone before and to come back to this earth wiser with another stretch of another canal at least partly sussed for the future

I somehow arrived at the rendezvous five minutes early, but then I'd woken at 02.15 and barely been able to get back to sleep after allowing the dreams of the previous day's suicidal Leam-ing roach and what might, or might not, happen on the next trip to drift into surreal view. Big chub, bream, roach and perch, they'd all be on the agenda - and nothing under 2lbs! This semi-sleep/semi-awake state would linger for hours until I needed to respond to the alarm which woke me with a jolt at 05.50

If ever it were possible to dupe me into something dubious, the prospect of big roach from unlikely surrounds was always going to be a good starting point. The tales are there to be read on Danny Everitt's ever-engaging, and no less informative and entertaining, blog The Lure of Angling in episodes of which he had accidentally, by his own admission, taken roach well over the above size as a by-product of a heavy duty lobworm-based perch assault on a very actively-used canal
http://thelureofangling.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/thinking-outside-of-my-box.html

We arrived somewhat too early at the pegs of choice and Danny generously explained the drill gleaned from those previous visits while we waited for enough light to set-up. While doing so the decision was made on my part to combine my now relatively standard heavy bread attack with a version of Danny's perch method using a light link-leger on the wand close-in to my right. Danny wanted to contrast this with a zander rig down the middle and perch rig under a long-standing moored boat to his right, both on the float, and so the traps were set

Holding back on information was clearly not one of Danny's strengths and the general, yet deep, angling chatter between us was most illuminating, not least in that we seemed to be in agreement, despite having grown-up in totally different angling worlds, in our views on the subject as far as we were able to explore them in the space of a couple of angling hours with its associated attractions and distractions

By the time I had clocked the true clarity of the water however my confidence in the bread had subsided sufficiently to relegate the method to an exercise in simply feeding-up the resident crayfish. I have not yet known this approach work unless there was at least a tinge of colour in the water, ideally clarity to around 8" down, and my gut feeling was that if the venue was this clear whenever I visited again some fresh and plump casters would undoubtedly be the order of the day as one of those baits which will attract and then hold feeding fish (roach) for a long period, albeit it takes a couple of hours minimum to achieve the situation. I had braced myself for a procession of boats but in fact we had but one quite gentle cruiser-by that barely rippled the water and certainly did nothing to enhance the turbidity

In this time Danny had quite literally been hauling out zanderlets of a pound or more on kit geared to deal with the double-figure fish he suspected existed here and when his fifth fish, which happened to be a pound and half perch, was returned to slightly diesel-filmed water, the former match fisherman in me felt somewhat shell-shocked. He then took one or two on the inside line and at this time I too had started to get bites on whole lobworms, losing the first and then missing three consecutive wraparounds of the tip from fish that hadn't fully taken the bait and when the worm returned it was on each occasion only then hooked at one end. Surprisingly no prizes are being given for reasons why they weren't caught

Eventually, after Danny's swim had died, I did at last manage three cracking perch from this undoubted dead cert location with baits fished very close to the near bank. The first went 1-6-0 followed by fish of 1-9-0 and, after some debate about it's actual weight, the point of the three fish pyramid was initially pencilled and then inked-in at a weight of 2-1-0; a severely hump-backed primitive-looking fish the like of which I had never seen before, but my Guide advised that this form of fish was quite commonly caught here along with others sharing genetic defects in their scaling. Great fighting fish they were too and the bigger two made for entertaining sport on the wand which looks as if it might struggle to tame a bleak but copes admirably with the challenge and has always to date held strength in reserve

Not built for speed these fish but do they survive in the austere canal environment! 
Despite the lack of roach in the net, in a trip which served more as a recce for the species than anything else, a catch of three perch for exactly five pounds in a twenty minute period toward the close was not to be sniffed at and for that to include the first 2lb canal perch I had ever seen, let alone caught, was, as Eddie Cochrane or more recently The Sex Pistols would have said, 'something else' bringing as broad a grin as this miserable so-and-so ever manages to his woolly mug. The roach attack was persevered with for around two hours without so much as a piscine nibble though the same could not be said for their crustacean counterparts who had a free feast worth shelling-out for

The Neanderthal of the fish world resplendent with extra armour behind the eyes
Danny kindly offered to take the trophy shot with some alacrity but with equal and contrasting resignation did not further the question when I declined. I like the fish to take the stage, this being an unwritten born-again angler law, having been quite the opposite in my match fishing days

The reminder to take Parps to his Rugby match overtook my mind after a little short of two and a half hours and, as I headed back and offered some bits of part-punched bread to the ducks, I pondered the fact that we could quite easily have spent at least as long again, and more likely many days, discussing the convergence of angling ways and our experiences but the pleasure of such a visit and the topping of it with the PB canal perch made it all the more enjoyable. Not virtually a good fish this one but a real good one and the only hint of the need for the police, as it turned out, would have been to separate hybrid ducks fighting to the death...and Danny turned-out to be a real gent, more so than I could have imagined, well-versed, well-read and well-mannered; the littl'un needn't have worried the biggest risk was being dragged in by the predators. Later that day at the Rugby match one of the Dads said he'd told his nippers not to walk close to the canal edge as there were canal sharks that would try to beach and drag them in if they got too close(!), this might just be the place he referred to

Friday, 15 November 2013

The Perfect Time



This week there has been that nip in the air that catches the throat and makes you think am I ill or is it going to be winter soon?

Well it's likely to be neither just yet but it IS the prime time of year to fill one's net on a canal
Over the years the first two weeks in November have often been shown to be the optimum period to hit the towpath and catch unbelievable bags of fish. This year of course it has happened to coincide with many of the previously low rivers being boosted by an influx of rainwater making them an attractive proposition too

In fact this November has not been ideal thus far with it being a touch colder than recent history would have suggested and therefore the canals have been a trifle clearer than make for prolonged catching of net-making fish

This being the case it has partly set me off on a quest to tackle some small streams, in this case the River Leam, and partly to make sure I have a perchy back-up plan on canal sessions

Thus far (we've been at it around a fortnight) the river fishing has got the better of us with the best fish a pristine a 10oz roach accompanied by a little few perch and all of whom fell for the tail of a lob, next we will be tackling them with bread flake but, more than this lack of notable fish on lobs, the untamed banks have been something of a shocker. Yesterday for instance I would have had to create a swim wherever I had wanted to fish and in fact the swim I ended-up on was barely fishable due to lack of proximity to the waters edge, the water level itself and snags. Still once its dropped another 8" we should be well in for the odd chub and at this current rate, with no more rain on the horizon, that could be this weekend

Canal-wise, the decision to revisit the peg of the holy rutiloid grail was made some six weeks after the event which was rationalised internally with the following reasons:
  • It had been long enough not be over-zealous
  • I had recovered from the shock
  • The fish might have done the same
  • Were there any similarly sized school-mates to be snaffled
  • The weather seemed right (wind direction and speed are crucial here)
  • I wanted to see what other monsters the bend held which might be susceptible to the odd giant lobworm/snakey thing
 
The, as usual, brief session after dawn and before work produced a relatively instant response from the resident roach, as has become customary with the now heavier initial feed, with a very nice fish of 1-4-6 soon in the net after an unusually bream-like fight having fallen to bread on a 10m pole presented just beyond middle, and was followed by another bite but sadly this second solid feeling fish of the morning shook the hook after just a few seconds



That pretty much concluded that action on bread within half an hour in an area with a low fish population on this occasion and so a change to the wand and lobworms cast near-side of middle to the right was keenly made

Bites were instant. I had put quite a handful of chopped dendras and lobs and fish had found them in some numbers. I have found dendrabenas (are the littl'uns dendrabeanie babies?) previously to attract too many small perch so this time I increased the ratio of lobs and put more of both in

First fighter on the supple short tip rod was a perch almost exactly matching the roach for size at 1-4-11 and with a chunk apparently bitten out of it's sail-fin

 

Immediately after a real digger took a giant lob and took a bit more landing than I have been used to of late. Eventually a larger than standard stripey hit the bottom of the net and seemed a bit more useful with his dorsal shield than many of his cousins have proven over the years. A quick weigh before going gently into the keepnet showed this fish to be (fractionally) a canal PB at 1-13-11. It's beginning to feel as if the 2lb canal perch is something of a barrier however.

 

At this point what appeared at long distance to be a small young moorhen could be seen floating on the water. It was at an awkward angle back over my shoulder from where I was watching the tip but I was sure I had seen it dive under! If I had it was certainly no moorhen. Some while later the bird came close enough to i.d. as a dabchick, quite an unusual find for this canal which carries very little suitable life for such tiny diving grebes to seek-out due to its lack of vegetation and associated aquatic invertebrates. As it approached and I looked away it disappeared as only grebes can, they can submerge as much or as little of themselves as they need to and, although no weed was present on this canal, can often leave themselves with just the top of their head above water within a weedbed while any perceived threat passes by, or over, which couple with their irresistible chuckling laugh makes them quite adorable little chaps and chap-esses

The trip concluded with a small perch and then another good one of 1-4-2, and two decent unseen lost fish - as is usual when fishing whole lobworms of course

This weekend Danny Everitt of The Lure of Angling blogspot has invited me to try 'his' stretch of water where very big canal roach have been a by-product of his perching activities so it will be very interesting to see how those bruisers respond to the heavy-duty mashed bread method, if at all...can't wait, can't sleep and fingers crossed for bites!


Friday, 1 November 2013

Wide Options Narrowed (or The Big Roach get Bigger)

Cracking the glass ceiling caused a rapid repair to the metaphorical understairs cupboard contemplating zone. From thence some noteworthy conclusions were drawn
Sadly however, a month or two ago, all records for 2012 and 2013 literally disappeared in front my very eyes from the screen of my iPad together with a lifetime's list of pound-plus canal roach. 'Sadly' as a word is of course no true reflection to an avid lister and recorder of the feeling of loss at this event. Apparently it was something to do with my phone and tablet syncing but not being backed-up to the cloud, and all that clap-trap, however it has continued to happen arbitrarily since so I'm not so sure

Anyway, cue a watershed decision not to let 'the system' have control of my information henceforth and the subsequent investment in a set of superb moleskines; one for the initial returning dabblings of 2010 and 2011; one for what remnants of 2012/2013 I can glean from the blog (thank goodness for the idea to commit so much of it to that!) and one for general species records but, as that one is red, mainly for roach

Thankfully I know that, at the time the glass ceiling was breached, 37 rutilii in excess of a pound had been enticed from the murky depths, for which I thank the industrial revolution generally. Since that time, brightly I thought, individual records of each trip had been made but some of them had also subsequently been lost so there are definite gaps in the record however a few of those relate to sorties to the Grand Union and conjoined Oxford and Grand Union between Napton on the Hill and Braunston (that's another story!)
In compiling a resume on rolled moleskin it became apparent that this year individual captures over the 2012 PB of 1-4-12 (and the average of 1-2-4) had become quite regular. The average for the year must be around, if not higher than, 1lb 4ozs but the facts will never be entirely known now, although I do realise that henceforth the record can be recalculated to determine loose figures to hang a somewhat woolly and holed hat on

The change from liquidised bread, to mashed bread, to quantities of mashed bread as feed around March/April this year has had a notable impact on results, and the number of fish over last years PB is already past five.
This apparently simple change has been the most striking during the big roach quest
I have commented before on the problems with being unable to sustain bites over a decent period on bread with this feeding technique but it is by now certain beyond doubt that the downside is comfortably outweighed in fish above the 2012 average. Fish that were 'of dreams' last year have become sufficiently regular in 2013 to confirm that around three mashed bread satsumas on arrival are the key factor in weeding out the also-rans
It is no less easy to put together a weight of roach however, and, for that, the previous line of thought of a slightly more 'little and often' approach would still be the preferred choice but with the prospect of really big canal roach currently perfectly possible on every trip it is rare that this tactic be adopted unless prevailing conditions suggest it may fail (usually based on water clarity)
In many ways it feels as if the two-pounder came a little early in proceedings. Here we are less than two years into pursuit of the largest of the species, with a formerly unimaginable barrier broken, and yet with the follow-up list well behind, over half a pound in fact, which, in a species that doesn't grow too large, represents a considerable gap in results
Certainly it is perfectly possible that the biggest was a fluke, the last or at least one of a tiny group of monster roach I just happened to cross paths with, it's highly likely in fact, but it has been so noticeable that the largest fish at any one time has been a small incremental increase on its forerunner that it makes this one stand out at being in excess of half a pound bigger than its nearest rival at 1-9-11


The back-up list would nevertheless have been unimaginable pre-2012, and fanciful until April this year, but on two occasions since no less than two fish over the 2012 average have been taken in one session, but, with mention of the word 'session' comes the predicament

The North Oxford Canal benefits from various factors that make it a waterway able to produce these kind of results:

  • It is relatively deep in a good number of stretches,
  • (almost) always carrying some colour in at least one of the two key lengths (which I separate as above and below Hillmorton Locks), and,
  • has a generally low fish population, but,
  • a high relative predator population together with,
  • a correspondingly low range of successful species; these could be listed simply as Bronze Bream, Roach, Perch and Zander, with Silver Bream a little way behind.
  • It also snakes on its winding course through the Warwickshire countryside such that, no matter how horrendous the weather, there is always somewhere worthwhile that one can find sufficient shelter to fish
All of this serves to demonstrate that the canal has the capacity to hold bigger roach and, in roughly equal measure, provide the circumstances for their capture
The downside though is that it carries a high level of boat traffic and, while it is deep, it is also generally a touch too narrow to cope as a fishery, as compared to say the Ground Union in Northants where, on a decent peg, it is possible to resume catching straight after a boat. Fish seem to scatter when a boat passes and it is very time consuming to bring them back onto the feed, it can take as long as an hour and the chances of another boat, or in fact numerous boats, in that period is high which reduces chances to close to zero. When fishing with bread this is even more of an issue but is exacerbated by the fact that the heavier one feeds at the outset the shorter the initial catching period will usually be because the fish can be fed-up (in the falconry sense) within minutes
Evenings are not much better as narrowboats currently have no idea of when to stop moving and a recent trip met with boats after dark making a mockery of the effort
So, it is very much a case of starting at first light and continuing until the boats start but, on those days when the boats are lenient to the angler, it is very clear from experience that when bites are forthcoming immediately the session starts they will end with the rising sun. The heavy bread feed and 20mm-plus punched flake generally limits caught fish to those over 14ozs and the littl'uns only get a look in when they have whittled the bait down to something manageable but it is abundantly clear that what equates to one and a half to two slices of bread being thrown-in at the outset quickly encourages those roach over the pound and, more often than before, over 1lb 2ozs to have a go
Roach of 1-8-5 and 1-5-8 together with a hat-trick silver bream of 0-14-13. Quite a catch!
Soon I will try upping the initial feed even more, expecting it to kill it before I've started, but I would have expected that with the current level of feed so who knows? Secondly, the hook bait can be increased to over 25mm and that will make a logical combined step. Nothing ventured...

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Big Bend Theory - Fact

Now don't you just know that it must be worth writing about to see this post after a gap of two months and very little blogging activity since May?

Many months ago the idea that bends in the North Oxford Canal might be places to target for big roach formed. A couple of visits to likely spots produced the goods, without doubt, and bream to over three pounds, cracking 'more roach than bream' hybrids and even some unseasonal (and somewhat unbelievable) tench ensued, but no exceptional roach, just the odd twelve ouncer

So, with my initial intensive dalliance with the syndicate water ended for the time being (more of that some other time), and the summer holidays over. I decided to try a bend I had intended to take the plunge in for over a year. An area from which I recalled a former travelling companion winning an evening match with around 6lbs of skimmers approximately 20 years ago, otherwise the noteworthy feature of this bend was its lack of 'previous'

It really is completely, so completely, featureless physically as well. So much so that it is not so much a case of words failing to convey it as it not requiring any words, there being is nothing to describe

One thing that was striking however was the depth, which, for the North Oxford, was surprisingly shallow as the float stood at least a foot proud of the water on plumbing, at which point the prospect of an instant death at the passage of the first boat became a fact

On top of this I had cadged The Old Duffer's pole with a view to buying it from him if it proved suitable for what I had in mind...thin, stiff, 11 metres packing into one piece, while at the same time light enough to rove with in a bag with a rod and centrepin set-up too

Arriving at the bridge just after dawn the dash to park was at first delayed by the sight of a number of moored boats, such that the initial reaction was to move on, but something made me turn back and soon, with the bare minimum of tackle now taken to the highest levels, the towpath was consumed by the marching of wellies headed for the spot

The peg I chose, and those for a good distance either side, had not been fished this season it seemed. Nothing unusual for canals these days of course but I was able to gently compress some vegetation leaving that close to the edge in place in the hope of concealing my presence from the quarry

The water had that bready greenish tinge, many years' experience had taught, to about 8 inches down and, with a heavily overcast sky and a mild morning temperature, confidence of at least a few bream to go with those previously caught bend-inhabitors grew from possibility, through probability, to definite in the mind

Having plumbed, a line about 9m out was targeted with three handfuls of mashed bread and a lift bite pole rig lowered over the top offering a 20mm bread disc to potentially be consumed. This was the first time I had fished the pole this season having sold an old DAM model to make way for other tackle and this one was very much more stiff and slender for the purpose

Very soon after the rig settled the tip lifted clear of the surface and a strike met with staunch resistance. The fish was neatly drawn to the right due to the incredible rigidity of the pole and as it was shipped back the elastic tore out towards the centre and one of those all-powerful subsurface eruptions of boiling water reached the surface numerous times

It soon dawned on me that this was not the fight of your average bream but a lack of prior use of this pole left me at something of a loss as to what to predict, such did it differ from the feel of the old model which had much more 'action', but certainly this fish did not seem to have that extra power of a big hybrid

Next, as the excitement moved closer to the near bank, a distinctly, and bright, red fin was glimpsed

Now over the course of this stop/start big roach quest such a sight had so often been backed-up by a decent hybrid that I was reluctant to show any great signs of interest but then, when it rolled toward the net, a truly massive, MASSIVE, roach revealed itself...no mistake

The fish shot into the net and straight over the opposite edge in its initially unbeaten state! A quick tazz around the near shelf and this time it was in the all-but undersized net. The brute took quite some lifting clear of the water but as soon as it was visible in the full glory of it's silver clad flesh this was clearly a special fish

It was going to blow the previous 1lb 8oz canal p.b. out of the murky water with comfort and in the heat of the moment I convinced myself it would go 1-12-0. Partly because I could not face the prospect of being wrong if I guessed higher and partly out of a sort of innate pessimism

Photographs were taken on the iPhone (why never a decent camera when it really matters?!) and then the truth was to be revealed. Even without the result of this first cast, first bite, fish the idea to target wider bends was certainly justified in this moment

The scales, I allowed myself to admit as the hook took the strain of the bag, needed to slip past 32 ounces to make this past five minutes the five minutes of a lifetime. 35.6 they settled and locked. Again, to be sure, 35.6...no doubt, but of course I already knew this to be a monster, how much of a monster was now confirmed. Yes the five minutes of a lifetime, the fish of a lifetime and, this time absolutely no doubt that this fish was one hundred percent roach without the slightest hint of any other species mixed-in. Although, if I am honest, it was about 97% roach as a slice of the top of its tail was missing but with no signs of recent injury this must have been a long-term feature of the fish
Roach 2-3-11. Canal and overall PB. Not the time for poor photo's but these are all I have! No doubt about it nevertheless

...and again
I wasn't sure whether to fish on or to simply call it a day after one bite, nothing that followed could match it, I knew that, but, if there had been a shoal of big roach, now might have been the time to have one of those rare exceptional nets of fish, albeit I had no keepnet today. Two hybrids followed of around 12 ounces each and then another good roach concluded the catch before the first boat did indeed kill the swim, churning the silty bottom to a beige soup. This one would sit at around 4th or 5th in the Float, Flight and Flannel all time canal list at 1-4-11 but that was the least of my worries as a warm glow and broad smile lead me back home

Roach of 1-4-11

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

A Completely New Challenge

Just recently I received news that I had been successful in gaining membership of a syndicate that controls angling on a water I regularly visited as a boy. My interest then was largely ornithological and being, then, of an age to permanently capture vividly fruit-centred memories my recollection is fond in a quite dewy-eyed way

Sanderling and black tern there remain my only sightings of the species, in the company of The Old Duffer, but it was the rattling voices of reed and sedge warblers that stick more clearly in the mind combined with finding a frog inside a tuft of rush, owl pellets and a jack pike being caught on a spinner which contained 90-odd tiny roach fry and a single sucking leech. I recall the pike tasting like very mild trout and remains, thankfully, the only time I have eaten it from both a culinary and conservation orientated perspective...there'll be none of that going-on this time around!

In angling terms it is something of an enigma to me. I never had a proper bite there as I recall, just a couple of liners on a swing-tip and yet I know that with concerted effort it was capable of producing roach around the magical weight and held at least one shoal of hefty bream plus odd tench, a group of which I once had the pleasure of viewing in shallow water as they queued up to spawn in a channel, perch and pike. No doubt there are other species but I distinctly recall a lack of small fish among the catches elders and betters then took. A friend of The Old Duffers' claims to have caught an inordinate number of big roach over his long angling career and it is mainly this possibility that draws me back

Approaching this completely new challenge 'safe' in the knowledge that this is very hard water, harder than any canal, currently spurs me on and yet in my previous angling life pre-1990's I wouldn't even have entertained such a prospect. Now though the prospect of the odd blank in pursuit of the incredible is an attraction and, having lost impetus with canals for the time being, it also comes at an opportune moment when seeking a contrasting and varied angling portfolio, so to speak. Yes, I can see the mix of small stream, very difficult stillwater and occasional canal will suit quite nicely for the foreseeable

The syndicate does not permit publicity and although the pro's and con's, well mainly the con's, have been debated in blog-world recently I can respect that view on venues which would otherwise be vulnerable to the down-side of literally 'broadcast' news. While I would generally take the view that the more open and transparent we are the better I am not averse to a touch of secrecy from time to time if it is necessary and in this instance I strongly believe it to be so therefore will have no qualms in being very careful about future information and how it is presented, for that I apologise in advance. That said I yet need to even set foot on the bank and cast a line into the fondly remembered waves before I can even dream of reporting anything even remotely interesting but at least the enthusiasm and confidence in the challenge are well-set.

With The Lady Burton back in the real world the prospect of an early sortie might just present itself fairly soon. The prospect of high winds, rolling waves, the tempting bird life, a type of angling I have never before sought to understand and perhaps even the occasional bite is really quite appealing

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Losing the Urge?



'Can't sleep


It's happened before...

Big time from about 1996, exact date unknown such is the nature of these things, until 2010

Again in 2010, and also in 2011, after brief returns but not getting sufficiently engaged by the subject

For precisely five months from May to October last year after an excellent Highlands break made the pursuit of the angle seem insignificant...and it's happening now with the same precursor and enhanced by a heavy workload, bad shoulders and The (ailing) Lady Burton, maunge, maunge

That said there is a serious wish to get back on a small stream but no license to show for it and no inclination to make the effort to go to the nemesis of  mine that is the modern tackle shop

All a bit wierd really

Certainly the summer is not and has probably never been my favourite time to fish and a few early hours reintroducing The Old Duffer after a thirteen month surgery-enforced break did little to permanently break the cycle with a resounding blank using the same method which was monotonously emptying the canals every session only 3-4 weeks ago but from which it was time to diverge

The Old Duffer, thankfully back in the swing and as keen as ever. May 2012 saw his previous trip out...
The Old Duffer however was thrilled to be on the bank, in his case, getting bites and, although the weight of the pole got the better of him after a couple of hours, a loose fed maggot approach did the trick with perch and roach coming to the net at regular intervals

...and a re-acquaintance with roach, never a bad thing
The bird list was quite impressive for a three hour period sat in the greenery of the countryside. Occasionally twenty species are managed from the, at this time of year, often concealed perch of the peg without any wandering about but more often around fifteen. The highlight again was a kingfisher, probably the same one I photographed a few weeks back, or it's mate

To shake myself back into action I've just ordered a two-rod sleeve in order to rove with, er, two rods (could you see that coming? More stealth required obviously). Next job - licence; although I have been fortunate enough to gain access to a syndicate which allows me to fish a stillwater I used to be all-but obsessed with as a boy, though mainly in a general natural history kind of way, in fact I never caught a fish there as I recall, so that remains to be targeted once The Lady Burton is suitably recovered; that apart, there is a small river that intrigues me...

Sunday, 2 June 2013

TO PARADISE (AND, SADLY, BACK)




It's a long way to paradise, but my God it's worth the effort

 
The real arrival starts in our minds as we take the ferry across the sea loch to the wilderness and at the halfway line we allow ourselves to contemplate a list of holiday fauna for here the real change occurs and it marks the arrival at somewhere quite special. Black guillemot is usually the first bird to reveal itself at this moment but it being the nominally 'rush-hour' ferry we didn't get a decent view however we were into the swing and by the time we'd gently meandered first the middle reaches and then the deeper upper stretches of a stream-like single track road for a couple of perfect, still, sunlit hours twenty-five species had been noted; the initial highlights, with no effort nor optical aid, six species of thrush including an immaculate male stonechat and dashing, flashing white wheatear; roadside-probing snipe and wing-stretching red-breasted merganser
 
Of course we've been here before, to this remotest of places, but never stayed so close to the sea and with a view to die for, no, make that 'to kill for', the first night met with much contented snoring, mostly by journey-fatigued spaniels...how long could a dog sleep if left undisturbed? Parps thinks as long as it can go between wee's, he may be right
 
Experience told us we could expect the best weather at this time of year, this being backed-up by meteorological fact from mountain climber's weather records, and the next week would take full advantage of that. There would be no holy grail as such but, with all sorts of spectacular opportunities at hand, almost anything was possible
 
Twelve hours of the journey were sunlit but as we stepped from the car - drizzle! After a somewhat disjointed night's sleep with first Parps and then The Dog, followed by Scamper and Monty, unsettled for various semi-human and canine reasons we awoke again to reinstated glorious sunshine and largely blue skies. I felt The Dog had probably spent all night at the helm of the high-powered telescope, and probably slept in his clothes in fits and starts, but reported nothing of note next morning and with nothing more than the customary Burton dew-dripping nose to show for his efforts
 
The gulf stream would be warming the clear inshore waters over white sand and volcanic rock. We were set only a stone's throw from the centre of a crater which, once one is aware of it, dominates the geology locally with the majority of it's outer ring still obvious and prominent. In amongst, relics of viking occupation reveal themselves if you know where to look, and what for
 
Here natural and social history fall into the sometimes heaving sea to spectacular effect
 
 
Parps ran-in and shouted in a whisper, as only an 11 year-old can, "Have we got anything mice can eat? We've found his hole and everything!" The cheese was raided.
The mouse turned into a field vole having extensive runs and burrows in the enclosed garden within the croft, some feeding remains and latrines lay evident in some of the entrances to their underground fortress, safe from kestrel by day and short-eared owl by night
 
Field vole evidence
 
Within ten minutes of leaving for our favourite spot one of the main attractions pitched-up on a ridge to the right and soared on locked wings towards us against the glow of blue until, sighting an airspace intruder and partly closing it's wings, it increased speed directly overhead as it sought to send the noticeably more diminutive buzzard back from whence it came. At that moment a further irritation was apparent, a small, lighter predator reflecting sun off its wings as it attempted to batter the larger of it's two raptor cousins locked in a haze of antagonism into a wider berth in protection of it's, no doubt active, breeding territory. Nowhere else in Britain was this possible and certainly no longer in northern England where the last pair of golden eagle met it's end just a few years ago when one of the partners disappeared
 
The most common bird-feeder visitor at home used to be greenfinch but now they are much reduced by a disease apparently spread between uncleaned feeders. Here their diminutive genus and colour-related finch the siskin holds that title and it is not unusual to pick-out two or three distinct pairs foraging at well-stocked bird tables festooned with perforated silver cylinders offering niger, that goldfinch magnet in the english Midlands
 
 
As I look out now the sun has turned to an all encompassing, visibility-shrinking thick blanket of misty drizzle. Above these words it says 08.25 and yet, with an already niffy spaniel snoring by the bed, it could be 4am. It never really gets dark this far north, indeed only 30 hours ago The Lady Burton was convinced the green glow stretching over island mountain ranges to the north was the Aurora Borealis. She was too polite to wake me after a 13 hour drive, which was partly fair but at the same time disappointing, but it was only the first night and the sun might just shine again yet over the forth-coming week
 
 
Words often come back to haunt you. "No holy grail", I said and then - the holy grail. The Dog was aware from keeping in touch with the upper reaches of Britain that corncrake, the member of the rail family so close to extinction just a decade or so ago and then down to around 600 birds, had been heard in iris beds central to the aforementioned volcano. We had never seen nor heard one but knew from the hideously embrassing antics of one Mr Oddie before he was apparently, finally and not soon enough, ditched by the BBC, what to listen for with the chances of a viewing, without a couple of packed lunches and a box of matchsticks, almost nil. We pulled-up at the local shop fronting the sea loch and tiny harbour and, while three-quarters of our number went to fill a cardboard box with provisions, I allowed myself to drift-off in the warmth of the now strong sun through the car window secretly hoping for the sound of the odd sedge warbler in the slowly emerging phragmites or, perhaps, a whitethroat in the scrubby bramble
 
The first call I didn't even register, it was so alien as not to be real. The second and I was upright with a start scrabbling for the pocket bird guide as back-up to confirm that rasping 'crex crex' call to be diagnostic beyond doubt...and so it was. Of course, when the three that had wandered returned, I had to confess I had indeed aurally encountered the great mysterious landrail and thankfully they were convinced but also confident they would hear it. They did not.
Later came a revisit to post a card and they all heard it louder and clearer than before, and right outside the shop. A sort-of corncrakes and cornflakes affair you might say (...or you might not!)


The westernmost freshwater rock pool on the UK mainland, just above the salt-water line
 
In the afternoon it was Parps' turn for a revelation. In literally the westernmost freshwater rock-pool in Britain, 23 miles further west than Land's End, but above the saltwater line in the shadow of a lighthouse he found a population of around 20 palmate newts courting and egg-laying on dead grass in the mid-afternoon sun. Quite a number of gravid females occasionally clasping their hind limbs while their naturally adhesive clear eggs glued the folded-over blades together. So many eggs were laid that it was difficult to find unfolded grass in the peat-coloured pool by the time hunger got the better of us. The pool contained only eight things; water, rocks, skeletons, frog tadpoles, dead grass, a plastic bag, the odd shrimp and newts, surely and eleven year-olds paradise
 
Male palmate newt
 Again the sun shone today and a moorland walk exposed the brightest and chattiest chats of stone and whin as we wandered toward the sea. From wave-lapped shoreline rock, distant views of a primitive avian throwback, seemingly modelled in clay rather than feathers, could be picked-out against the occasionally glinting sea as it was intermittently present above the waterline. All afternoon and evening it dived for sand-eels and later was joined by this spring's already fledged juvenile. Identification was difficult at a range of around 400-500m but eventually the pale (not mottled) back, the up-tilted bill, the flat chest and lack of pale flank patch set these apart as red-throated divers, a speciality local breeding species along with it's black-throated and slightly more curvy cousin yet to be tracked-down
 
This brought to mind the occasion we encountered great northern diver with young on Skye, a bird not known to breed in these parts according to all respected guidance but we have found over the years, this probably being our tenth visit, that the guide books are wildly inaccurate due to the simple fact that certain species are, as they say, 'locally common' but to include such species in distribution maps would result in a pin cushion appearance and all round confusion. For instance, yellowhammer, canada goose and linnet are not here according to the books but we regularly find them, and this is the attraction of course, the uncertainty of the findings, or rather, the certainty of the unexpected
 
The sea was choppy beyond the shallow bay protected by dark rounded rocks, the produce of ancient volcanic activity, which lie in and against the water like massive dormant hippos preventing the sea taking too many liberties with the delicate dune systems behind. Further out the surface was rolling, small fishing boats could be seen swaying this way and then that, making the cetacean hunt futile, but necessary nevertheless - one never knows!
 
The Lady Burton and The Dog seek-out mammal fins on the sea at prolonged sunset 
 
Pondering the highly likely prospect of moving here upon retirement we today hit the wall at 65 bird species adding only good ol' pheasant. The raptors have been elusive this time with only two ticked and at least four or five that haven't shown their dramatically-honed forms this spring...and today the air, the moors, bare grass and rain-rounded rock hills - the view - are consumed by a typical Highland foggy drizzle. Albeit, as I write, the gloom begins to lift
 
Cetaceans are on the mind daily but the sea had been a touch too choppy for viewing and the trip organisers locally had no sightings of minke whale until the second week of May, but they are increasing as the days of spring pass. The impression is that the indicators of that ebullient time of year are at least three weeks, maybe a full month behind those in Warwickshire. When we return there the watersides will be at least a waist-high tangle of perennial vegetation and the lawn, my goodness the lawn, will be in severe need of of a no1 all over. A good two hours needed to set aside there then!
 
 
The often silent, sometimes almost morbid, trip home has been illuminated early-on by glimpses of otter on the past two visits between eight and nine a.m. This year was little different except that the view was much more prolonged giving the happy throng time to extract themselves are various items of optical equipment from the car and absorb the calm antics of this lively breakfasting predator of sea-loch urchins
 
We also managed to add black guillemot and grey seal before the ferry hit the halfway mark on the return. Meanwhile Scamper, the fluffiest of Cockers and always strangely perturbed by hi-viz jackets on male humans, threatened to eat large chunks of the ferry conductor - and failed. He's not scary at the best of times
 
 
...and here endeth the tale
 
 
(ow The Lady Burton seeks accommodation for the summer holidays. We ARE getting boring!)
 

BIRDS
1 Herring gull
Lesser black-backed gull
Common tern
Red breasted merganser
Eider
Swallow
Sand martin
House martin
Song thrush
10 Mistle thrush
Robin
Stonechat
Wheatear
Blackbird
Starling
Blue tit
House sparrow
Chaffinch
Goldfinch
20 Greenfinch
Linnet
Siskin
Lesser redpoll
Yellowhammer
Woodpigeon
Collared dove
Hooded crow
Raven
Meadow pipit
30 Skylark
Heron
Common Snipe
Common sandpiper
Oystercatcher
Greylag goose
Canada goose
Wren
Willow warbler
Sedge warbler
40 Golden eagle
Buzzard
Cuckoo
Razorbill
Shag
Fulmar
Manx shearwater
Gannet
Pied wagtail
Corncrake
50 Whinchat
Common whitethroat
Kittiwake
Common gull
Great black-backed gull
Guillemot
Red-throated diver
Rock pipit
Great tit
Reed bunting
60 Teal
Dunnock
Mallard
Goldcrest
Shelduck
Pheasant
Lapwing
67 Black guillemot
 
MAMMALS
Red deer
Field vole
Common pipistrelle bat
Common seal
Grey seal
Otter
 
HERPS AND INSECTS
Palmate newt
Common frog tadpole
Small white butterfly
Peacock butterfly
Green-veined white butterfly
Dung beetle