Saturday, 19 January 2013

Winter struck

Today was a first, a multiple first

Having just celebrated the big five-o the family clubbed together and instructed me that, with the proceeds, I was to buy something special for myself. Very little encouragement was necessary and, after brief mulling, delivery of a J W Young BJ centrepin was inevitable, and what a beauty she is - all gunmetal, silver and gold in enviable precision

On the irrefutable basis that noteworthy things occur in threes the temptation to go small river fishing in the snow also gripped me, having long been enchanted by traditional photographs of chub against the white background

Whether the third event was to follow remained to be seen

The tackle had been pared to the absolute bare minimum, in fact had it not been for the fact that I'd need something to keep my backside out of the snow a single rod sleeve and my pockets would have sufficed!

Conscious of the potential to lose the ends of extremities under such conditions I found myself in an unimaginable sweat by the time I'd flushed a gangly heron from the winding watercourse and ambled to my starting peg but, a few zips later, the steam released and with the task settled in to, the balsa was running through quite neatly, supporting a bulk of 3AAA with a BB dropper, as the air filled with the sound of nuthatches twittering to each other in separate woods on the far bank

The reel was little short of a dream, so much so that when I struck into a surprise bite after about 20 minutes I remained so besotted by it that I entirely forgot to pressure the not inconsiderable adversary out of some nasty snags and the presumed big chub left me with rather less gear than I'd cast in

Another hour or so gently teasing pieces of flake and crust through the particularly comfy swim produced not a touch and the decision to try another spot further downstream took priority

Fishing in lying snow was quite different to my only other experience from the former life about 17 or 18 years ago when fishing an Angling Times winter league semi-final on the Bridgewater Canal at Sale. On that occasion I was using a 13m pole when huge lumps of snow started falling heavily and trying to see the tip of a tiny wire-bristled float through it was disorientating to the point of nausea, very odd

The second swim was considerably shallower and more snaggy than the first and a spell with the same rig, and later a link leger, gave no positive indications from fish if any were indeed present

A sign of the desperation that sets in under such climatic circumstances was played-out in the wood when a beautifully plumaged buzzard suddenly swept down to the ground in pursuit of female blackbird but, unsuited to such attacks, the raptor failed miserably in its brief attempt to stave-off hunger. The escapee exited with a shrill alarm call and the dejected chaser alighted on a high branch to contemplate the whereabouts of its next snack

Another hour or more passed and saw a return to the first swim to run through the repertoire again, but to no avail. Pheasants were flying up into small trees to my left as darkness started to fall. By this time I had been out far longer than I was either intending or expecting, such was the level of contentment, and as a pair of ravens struck-up their individually recognisable kronking in the wooded hillside to my right, before they flew along the rise in front of me to roost in a single tall tree, the feeling that I had outstayed my welcome descended, together with a hint of a probable ensuing drop in air temperature. This was not an evening to fish into dark

The snow seemed somewhat wetter on the return journey as the various footprints of mammals and birds entertained the mind. Certainly the peg from which I had wiped much of the snow with my irreproachable thermal boots had turned from dry snow to mud while I was there.

The three events I had to be content with were the snow, the reel and the lost fish this time. Soon the snow would be melted and the River back up to the top of the banks and not difficult to avoid. As I sat back in the warmth with an Ardbeg Islay 10 year-old single malt I wondered how long before I actually banked a fish under such circumstances, hopefully the reel will have by then become a natural extension of the self and present every chance of beating any bruiser audacious enough to snaffle the bait

Bird list:
Goldfinch, long-tailed tit, robin, fieldfare, blackbird, buzzard, raven, indet gull, woodpigeon, rook, heron, pied wagtail, magpie.

Friday, 18 January 2013

The Year Ahead. What will it Bring?

Having openly attracted public humiliation by sharing canal fishing species PB's in the previous post; although readers (if there were any) have been too polite to comment along the lines of, "Well actually I can beat all of those. Where have you been fishing or did you only pursue it as a small child and without any help?" (Maybe there weren't any readers!); it is time to make some use of the list

There pervades a certain wish to have a general go at it ALL, having been somewhat blinkered for the past year, and of course the benefit of the canals being a trifle crusty at present (and no sign of let-up according to the forecast) certainly offers an opportune time to set some goals and have a proper target for the year

One thing not mentioned previously was the staggering number of species caught from the Grand Union which included species like Dace & Bleak, out and out river inhabitants, but which were excluded on the basis of size and suspected accusations of lunacy ,whereas genuine canal species were included, even if quite uncommon, such as the humble (yet gorgeous) crucian, a fish I have taken from canals on at least three occasions in the 'dim & distant'

Roach have had a limited pasting in 2012, not that I used paste you understand...and anyway the wallpaper would float...and so I may perhaps back-off that a little; and the brief dalliance, not to say 'dangliance', with lobworm at the very end of last year has set some kind of other urge and thought pattern running which needs to be satisfied

The question really is whether to target specific fish or just target bigger fish; whether to set-out in pursuit of, say, a big perch or simply to fish positively for big fish generally using baits that perch, zander, bream, tench, etc., might ALL potentially go for and then enjoy the excitement of the possibilities and, that key angling ingredient, uncertainty when the bite is indicated; as opposed, I guess, to the disappointment of it not being the target species

Yes I think that would suit quite well, potential double excitement

On to places to target. The original intention of the blog was the compare the present with the past within a limited local geographical area, that being the landscape character area of Dunsmore & Feldon. Fortunately this covers a good chunk of the list of venues frequented in the past and, as such still fits the bill in an angling sense, even though a few of the bigger fish on the list were taken from the Grand Union around the Northampton/Milton Keynes area. It also however opens up some other locations not previously concentrated on at all which adds spice to the options and includes part of the Grand Union, the conjoined Oxford and Grand Union, North Oxford and South Oxford canals

...and there's still scope to pull in some rivers and the occasional lake by way of a change outside the main focus

Stretch of Grand Union with relatively high head of big fish. Tree-lined, wide and weedy

Specifically, within the recent canal quest, certain pegs have been searched for using aerial mapping. I've generally been looking for wide tight bends where boats will leave some part of the water unaffected even if it gets to be quite busy during the day and this has already shown benefits with the perch and zander fest and tench catches previously posted being two examples. Some such bends I could easily recall but there are areas of canal I no longer clearly remember, it's been so long, which may well benefit from such fish-holding, disturbance-shirking features and Google Earth is a real bonus in that respect

So I think it's very likely that a general big fish approach will be adopted keeping within the location originally intended as far as possible (it was never intended to be an absolute boundary after all) and, hopefully, the excitement at potentially approaching, and even perhaps beating, records of, until they are seen, unknown species will reach fever pitch on occasion! Well, at the very least, one can only hope

Google Earth Pro

Monday, 14 January 2013

Chases to the Cut

Being laid-up for some time inspired me in more lucid moments to start blogging getting-on for a year or so ago, so being in the same situation again, has given me time to go back through old catch records and to compile species' bests from each, whenever the symptoms have subsided sufficiently

Some of those places didn't deserve to be logged in that respect as they may have been listed trips to poor stretches at only once or twice frequented locations selected by the opposition in knock-out situations simply because they were poor and, as such, the returns for species caught were often just ounces

What I have been left with then looks a little thin in some areas; to a specimen hunter would look absolutely threadbare (more like a child's list) and, to an angler fishing anywhere other than canals, pretty paltry too

However the list of canal bests isn't too bad for someone not given to fishing 'the hotspot' & thus, it being the start of a new year and all that, it is time to make use of it. The benefit is that it can act as a reminder of those records waiting to be beaten and, perhaps, instead of seeking-out roach every weekend, it might nurture some kind of wish to exceed a few of the other weights on the list too!

Over the past year lists of pre-2012 & post-2012 bests have been kept separately as they represent the two different worlds this conduit is trying to serve to compare, but in future they are also going to be listed annually like a birder might keep annual tallies if he were of such a mind...something I have never done (although somewhere a 'life list' does exist I'm sure, 'can't be certain where though)

Canal P.B's:
Bronze bream 3-12-0 (Grand Union 1993)*
Silver bream 0-11-0 (North Oxford 2012)
Carp 5-8-0 (Grand Union, Northampton Arm 1991)*
Crucian carp 0-12-0 (Grand Union, 1990)*
Chub 4-3-0 ('South' Oxford, 1994)*
Gudgeon 0-2-0 (North Oxford, 1996)
Perch 1-10-8* (Grand Union, date uncertain)
Pike 5-10-0 (Grand Union, Leicester Line circa 2002)
Roach 1-4-12 (North Oxford, 2012)
Rudd 0-6-8 (Grand Union, 1991)*
Ruffe 0-2-0 (North Oxford, 1990)
Tench 3-2-0 (Grand Union, 1989)
Zander 2-11-0 (North Oxford, 2012)
*Match-caught fish

Jeff Hatt is currently valiantly espousing canal fishing on his Idler's Quest blog and I can only agree that this somewhat 'angling in miniature' scene (if it yet is one again, I'm sure it will grow if it isn't) is well worth the effort especially if combined with a healthy distrust of the sensationlist elements of the angling media which, apart from having an undoubted generally negative affect on the sport as viewed by the outside world (and plenty inside the world!), bears no relation to most rational fishermans' views of angling and therefore, if ignored, this type of angling can be enjoyed all the more

It doesn't have to be the biggest, the quickest, the fastest, it just has to be a pleasure! The angling press lost sight of this somewhere along the way between The Greats of yesteryear, Bob Nudd & the current raft of slaughterers trying to lower the water levels of commercials with their two keepnets, and cruel & pointless methods and motives, which have quite clearly now seeped into many branches of the sport by osmosis.

My belief is that this started with the big roach & bream catches publicised from Ireland & Denmark, probably in the mid-seventies from memory, crude tactics for a captive audience...some of you will still be able to picture a former world champion, who will forever be associated with a parrot, and 'southern stars' with huge bulging tunnels of, probably knotted or knitted, keepnets full of roach, rudd or bream depending on the country they plundered...I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time but surely in hindsight, as it did to me then, it appears barbaric and yet now, 30 to 40 years on, it is actively encouraged nationwide. If you are brought-up as a youngster on 'commercials' these days you must wonder, if indeed the brain is engaged on the matter, what is the value of fish?, and in the same sentence lies the answer, 'commercial'.

The death of a fish due to ineptitude has been a very rare event throughout my angling life, and usually this was due to a small fish swallowing the bait when laying-on & being impossible to neatly unhook, but how many of those irish fish must have been gull-fodder when returned to the water?...and the pirates wonder why it doesn't last. How many of those suffering internal injuries would die later?

No, canal fishing these days, and especially on those affected by zander, is thankfully not in that bracket and it strikes me that, apart perhaps from certain forms of river fishing, there is currently no purer branch of the sport. I may be coming across as 'born again', which I am of course(!), but to step away, re-assess and re-invent is often a means of opening one's own eyes fully to the reality. Not that I ever plundered those kind of weights, in fact I have never caught even as much as 30lbs of fish in a session preferring instead the challenge of getting a bite in a rainwater puddle to following the crowd to the current litter-strewn, bank-worn, lipless fish-filled hot peg.

Yes, canal angling is a laudible pursuit within its own limitations. Each canal, and indeed each stretch of the longer waterways, has it's own character and one might consider setting different challenges for each definable length. In the old days my own aim was simply to devise a method which would beat 9-11 other blokes trying to do the same to me (a match fishing section usually being of 10 or 12 anglers, 1 from each competing team). Now it is simply to enjoy it and try to catch a few larger fish rather than a few littl'uns. Sometimes with a keepnet, sometimes without

If you are a trout angler or perhaps the type who likes to take the odd zander for the pot, that's fine; that makes the the world revolve, it's not wanton, it's food. If other species of fish are protected from removal from waters why are anglers allowed to treat them so badly? No other protected species are treated in this manner with, in some cases, even their specific habitat protected too

I have photographs of catches of fish flapping about in fields from the past which I look at and cringe. Indeed I recently posted a picture of a nest of perch I laid on the bank in a gale and pouring rain which didn't look great but they all went back healthy and weren't crushed or injured

How long before a do-gooder takes action against an angler or fishery? Not on a canal they won't but obviously they do have their downsides. Certain cuts cannot be fished after about 9am in summer and I suspect the majority (sweeping statement...but it didn't stop me above!) are unfishable during the main daylight hours during any school holidays simply due to weight of boat traffic. Some canals, and most of the Grand Union being a broad canal immediately springs to mind here, are fishable regardless in terms of being able to get a bite, but the constant disturbance is irritating even then. Another snag I have discovered, quite literally, this year is that the towpath margins in recent times have been allowed to become overgrown for quite some while in some places (in fact this must have extended to years given the height of ash poles until recently present on the water's edge) but suddenly that undergrowth, or is it over-growth?, has gone (no doubt something to do with the change of control from BW and shuffling budgets) and where have they gone? Into the canal! Not ideal and not something new in principle, admittedly, but an extreme case neverethless. So if you recently fished such a stretch you will realise how long it will now be before you can properly fish it again. It would be nice to think that the canal-controlling powers that (now) be will take account of anglers as they used to in the late 20th century but that remains to be seen

In the meantime I too would certainly recommend you get out there and try out your local cut, some of the time you will be amazed, the rest you will simply long as it's not midday on a bank holiday!

Now, where are those beta blockers?

Monday, 7 January 2013

The First Year's Roaching, a Summary

The Quarry in Stereovision. North Oxford Canal roach in excess of one pound

Wracking the old brain, emphasising the 'old', reasonable confidence confirms that the match angling urge had burned out by around 1996 when being unable to fish at least three times a week coincided with a relative inability to compete at any kind of level

The return with any kind of enthusiasm in 2012 had taken a long, long time to kindle being preceded, as it was, by a short-lived false start in 2010/11. Other than that, just the odd session tiddler-snatching on the Upper Thames had been undertaken when circumstances suitably conspired

So this past year has seen quite a rebirth when set against that background but even then the actual amount of time on the bank has been quite small with two hour sessions the norm seeking to lasso the odd fish before either the boats start moving on the canal or a twilight session on the Upper River Leam fizzles-out at the temptation of the Sunday roast

In the whole year only around 85 hours have been spent fishing in 38 trips whereas in the past this number of hours would have been consumed in just 5 weeks in Summer

This 00-gauge approach to the sport had to have a target & apart from a few largely unsuccessful trips to the Leam and a couple of stillwaters it has focussed on attempting to catch big roach from the North Oxford Canal

The method of fishing popped-up bread flake on the float while seeking lift bites was gleaned from Jeff Hatt's admirable blog "Idler's Quest" and has been pursued through this period subject to various amendments as circumstances, hunches and whims dictated

The results are not amazing but they are at the very least interesting...

Of the circa 80 hours bankside, about 65 of those were roach fishing on the canal and in that short space of time it was the intention to catch the bigger inhabitants of the waterway by using significant chunks of flake or crust. Nothing smaller than a 20p-sized piece was deployed all through and often a larger bait was used

In the period to 1994, at which time records either ceased to be kept or the bug had been squashed, 4 roach over a pound had been taken with a North Oxford 'PB' of 1-3-12 in 1993. These were all fish taken in matches when just a few minutes in each three or four hour competitive burst would have been spent in pursuit of 'bonus fish'

In 2012 however, when small fish have purposely been avoided by choice, 14 fish over a pound graced the landing net and many also committed to digital memory. The PB has been nudged gently up to 1-4-12 by a somewhat misshapen individual with others in more shapely proportions weighing 1-4-10 & 1-4-6 close behind. The average weight of those 14 fish over 1lb has been 1-2-4 and, by simple calculation, one has been caught, on average, about every 4 & 3/4 hours

Canal PB 1-4-12 : May 2012

The latter point has been something of a surprise. No specific target was set at the outset but the notion that so many would have been caught so often would have been dismissed without further thought early in the year. In that period the same peg has been knowingly revisited on only two occasions, from memory, as a wider search area was preferred to constantly seeking out the same shoal

As has been noted before in these posts, the odd larger specimen would have been welcome but in hindsight very little time had been expended and, in reality, more time, and better focussed time, would no doubt have increased the possibility but the number of roach under a pound has been remarkably low due to the size of bait employed so it is undoubtedly a neatly targetted method

The prospect of a specimen hunting obsession growing out of this little escapade was always possible but, though it has certainly been a pursuit of larger fish, it has not yet turned fully in that direction; while the pleasure has been there to be had from this relatively narrow search the need has been well and truly satisfied, not least because of the supplementation by other interests

Certainly the choice to fish rivers more regularly would have appealed but the fact that locally they have resembled oceans for much of the year has done very little toward making that possible

So overall 2012 has been a success. The urge has not waned this time with the label 'angler' now seemingly appropriate again and, for the time being, the method and location continue to suit until, that is, the rivers become fishable and then the offer of greater contrast will be even more attractive. That the year included incidental silver bream and zander PB's made it all the more rewarding although the range of species was very limited due to the watercourse and approach

Here's hoping for a significantly drier 2013 when some of the additional experiments planned for 2012 might then be possible. Obvious things which spring to mind, and which have not been pursued as yet, would be fishing into dark, caster and hemp so there's plenty of scope...and, of course, other species to go at occasionally too!

Friday, 4 January 2013

It's an Offishial Miracle!

Since the unexpected perch and zander-fest last week things went somewhat down-hill with a long walk to fish a particularly murky North Oxford Canal, wandering well into the wilderness beyond the furthest peg ever fished before, at least as far as memory served, to find the canal at that point to be much shallower than anticipated beyond midway and more suited to summer mornings than mid-winter
Bread produced not the slightest twitch and lobworm just the one bite - precisely as the kit was starting to be packed-away which has proven a very reliable tactic of late! This fish and line parted company after it had gently pulled 5m to the left and the suspicion was of zander from the fight it gave

There was more narrowboat activity than last week suggesting that a few had been hired-out for the new year period

The trip was not all wasted however as it served as a recce for a stretch which hadn't been seen for a long, long time. A number of formerly overhanging hawthorns had been completely removed changing the character of one part of the length entirely such that it now holds no angling attraction whatsoever when set against other options on the stretch

Onlookers trying not to be interested
Anyway, undeterred and continuingly encouraged by the mild conditions, another early start next day maintained the recent trend in leaving the house too early and arriving when still too dark to set-up. This provided the benefit to again venture further than normal to the inside of a very wide bend inspired by the result of the session referred to in the introduction above, albeit on a completely different stretch.

The big plus here was that when matches had been held here in the 1980's & 90's this would have been the place to draw. Having said that the results were never alarming but there were always a few better fish to be had in matches where often a couple of pounds of roach would be enough to give an angler a chance of some form of success. For my part I had only drawn near it once, enjoying watching all those on this section weigh-in on the way back past them and having the fact that this was the best area hammered home in a most emphatic manner. At least I had mustered a few ounces of fish and not blanked!

The canal at this point was less cloudy than yesterday, which was expected from experience, but the downside was that the south-westerly was blowing all the scum, slicks, sticks, bottles and logs to this area and what seemed the optimal peg was right in the middle of it! Fishing the pole with big baits would not be too much of a problem however as they could be lowered into gaps in the detritus as appropriate with a fairly heavy-duty rig as usual

Bread flake was fished close to the bottom of the slowly sloping nearside shelf in the knowledge that any disturbance by boats would likely be limited to water from the middle to the piled far bank due to the tightness of the bend and excessive width. The other advantage was that lobworms could be used on the nearside too, to the left and closer-in

Already a method is beggining to evolve using both techniques by fishing bread until at least an hour and a half of the session has expired and then alternating it with lobworm and continuing to feed both lines each time they are left to be rested

Again the bread flake did not produce a single bite and, having had to delay the start due to an early boat just after the initial feed, lobworm also took a while to show any signs. A text had just been sent to The Lady Burton to say how grim it was when a large but sluggish fish was lost, tempted by the tail of a lobbie. It was a good two and a half hours in however before a more powerful fish was hooked even though, on two occasions, fish had pulled at the bait when lifted off the deck (the prospect of popping the worm up off the bottom has a distinct ring to it for future trips)

The fish lead a merry dance and despite being zander-like at first became more and more intense in it's fight taking quite some while to tire. By the time any glimpse of it was seen I had manged to convince myself I had absolutley no idea what it could be other than a somewhat oddly fighting perch perhaps

The battle continued with the fish moving right then left, trying to get under the keepnet, stirring-up the bottom of the soft, silty, shallow near shelf etc., and still I could not pin-down the species for certain but by this time chub was probably favourite; some were caught within 20 pegs in 'the old days' and the three fish which had crashed on the surface earlier in the session between middle and far bank to the immediate left were maybe the most likely culprits...but then they do of course tend to give up the ghost somewhat resignedly after a while

Eventually a tail flicked visibly near the surface as the fish burrowed downwards away from the poised net, black and rounded, what was it?

Then that unmistakable greeny-gold frantic muscular flexibility of the fish was apparent...tench!

Now at this point the history of angling on the North Oxford, as known, flashed past and although I must confess a passer-by had volunteered that a guy had caught one 'much to his surprise, he didn't know there were any in here' in the summer - this was last time I parked at this bridge - I had immediately blanked that out as either fluke or fabrication

The fish was still not ready however and a desperate surge straight out, as they tend to, but at surface level had it behaving like a dolphin until the elastic brought it back under some form of control when the pole was lowered and it came closer within reach

So to say that catching a tench here, or anywhere on the 20-odd miles of this canal is unusual would be quite the understatement of 2013 even this early in the year. Recollection goes back to around 1975 and although there was a gap from around 1996 to 2011 I had never heard of one caught let alone seen one until the above anecdote

Care was now everything. Ol' rubber lips was not to be lost as this, in it's own way, was almost literally the fish of a lifetime, no matter how large and frankly it didn't look huge.

Soon, after a couple of last second escape bids, it was in the net and an audible chuckle accompanied it. At the very moment it was weighed at 1-11-13 and the genuine extreme rarity was gently introduced to the keepnet

As things tend to go with angling the rig was then flicked out in front, rebaited, and immediately a 6 ounce perch was hooked as the pole was pushed out. Next put-in a roach of around 8 ounces came off the hook as it came to the net

A lull followed until another bite and another similar fight to the tench, it couldn't be of course. If the first one couldn't have been how could this? It clearly wasn't as large but it was no less energetic and took some time to tame, again, but after an exciting little duel the extreme rarity count was doubled and instantly upgraded to an offishial miracle!

This one went 1-3-11 and had a faint heart-shaped mark on it's underside. Both fish also had inch-long damage stripes on their flanks, could this be cormorant evidence? I can think of no other reason for the linear grey indentations on their scales and a few were seen to fly overhead as they headed for lakes to the north

Isn't Christmas great?

Today's bird list:
Moorhen, mallard, buzzard, lesser black-backed gull, indet gulls, cormorant, blackbird, fieldfare, woodpigeon, green woodpecker, great-spotted woodpecker, kingfisher, starling, chaffinch, pied wagtail, carrion crow, raven, magpie, meadow pipit